East Boys Heading To State Tournament
By Joe Steck – Mankato Times
ST PETER, MINN. — The Mankato East boys held off Waseca to capture the 2AAA Section Basketball Championship Thursday at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter. With the win the Cougars improve to 24-5 while the Jayhawks end their season 26-4.
This game had everything you look for in high school playoff basketball – enthusiastic fans, quality play and great sportsmanship after the game. When the final whistle blew, the Cougars defeated the Jayhawks 78-70.
Cougar senior forward Uhana Ochan scored 14 of his game high 20 points in the first half.
“I had a very good first half. Usually I do not start out good in the first half but today I just got it,” said Ochan.
Ochan said that team defense was key to the victory, especially during crunch time.
“At first the game was very close and we extended the lead but they came back and our defense helped us hold them off and win it.”
The Cougars build a 42-31 lead with 14:30 left in the game, but the Jayhawks kept pecking away at the lead, tying the game at 57 after Adam Schumacher nailed a 3-point shot.
East built a 69-63 lead with 1:44 left in the game and looked to be running away but Malik Willingham nailed a huge 3-point shot to stop Cougars from running away with the game.
From this point, other than a layup by Damani Hayes, the rest of the Cougars points came off of free throws.
The Cougars made 21 of 29 free throws with 9 coming in the final 40 seconds. Hayes scored 9 of his 15 points from the line.
“I have been in the gym and all of my teammates have been in the gym shooting free throws preparing for these moments. We knocked them down and everyone was hitting their free throws and I am real proud of my guys and that is how we won the game,” said Hayes “We stayed resilient and did not get rattled. They are a great team but we knew if we could put in some stops and make our free throws that we could win.”
East Head Coach Joe Madson said slowing down Malik Willingham was a key to their victory.
“We wanted to make life hard on Malik because he is a terrific player. They have been scoring a little more balanced and hasn’t had to do tons but it all runs off him and into motion and he is able to make some shots early so we wanted to work him really hard.”
The State Tournament runs March 21-24 with the opening round games being played at Williams Arena.
Scores 1st 2nd Total
East 32 46 78
Waseca 26 44 70
Cougars: Edmon Oyet 12; Kong Kong 12; Jax Madson 15; Damani Hayes 15; Uhana Ochan 20; Jordan Merseth 4.
Jayhawks: Malik Willingham 20; Kyreese Willingham 1; Adam Schumacher 10; Ryan Dufault 19; Jack Vetsch 12; Matt Olsem 6; Andrew Morgan 2.