SIOUX CITY | Defense is another reason Morningside’s men’s basketball team is ranked third in NAIA Division II.
Trailing 56-52 eight minutes into the second half after taking a brief lead, Morningside held the only team it has lost to this season scoreless for the next 3 1/2 minutes. An ensuing 12-0 run set the tone for a squad that also rallied from a 40-32 halftime deficit to post an 87-72 Great Plains Athletic Conference win over No. 17 Dakota Wesleyan Saturday afternoon at Rosen Verdoorn Sports Center.
Tyler Borchers and Matt Hahn each tallied 22 points for Morningside (20-1, 13-1 GPAC) which avenged an 86-82 loss to the Tigers on Jan. 2 at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D. Zach Imig added 20 points, but again, defense was a key factor in the squad’s sixth straight victory.
After all, the GPAC’s leading scorer, Ty Hoglund, was held to seven second-half points after erupting for 18 in the first half with four of his game-high five three-point baskets. Winning coach Jim Sykes credited Hahn’s second-half defense along with that of Imig, who held Nick Harden to seven second-half points after he torched the league-leaders with 17 points in the first half.
“Their best two offensive players had 35 of their 40 points and we thought we had our two best defensive players guarding them,” said Sykes. “We just challenged them, ‘Is this who we are? Is this the best we can be?’ We responded in the second half.
“I thought we were much more physical in the second half. They were the aggressor in the first half. They dictated how things were going to go. I thought in the second half, we did that to them.”
Hoglund entered the game leading the GPAC with a 26.1 scoring average which ranked fifth in NAIA Division II. In the first meeting, the 6-foot-3 junior exploded for 30 points over the Mustangs, one of seven games he’s had of 30 or more this season for the GPAC’s second-highest offense (90.1 ppg).
“My teammates picked me up in the first half because I didn’t guard very well,” said Hahn. “They said they believed in me and in the second half, I played a lot different. In the first half, I was sagging off, letting (Hoglund) get to his pull-up. I felt in the second half, I was a lot more aggressive with him. I took it to him instead of him taking it to me.”
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Morningside leads the GPAC in scoring defense (68.5 ppg). Playing before the Day of Champions event honoring the NAIA national title football team, the Mustangs limited Dakota Wesleyan (17-7, 10-6) to 16 points in the game’s final 12 minutes and 14 seconds.
Borchers, second in the NAIA in field goal shooting (71.3 percent), was a beast in the second-half comeback with 16 points and 10 of his game-high 15 rebounds for a squad that shot a blazing 67.6 after halftime.
Complemented by 14-point second-half efforts from both Hahn and Imig, the 6-foot-7 Borchers scored four points in the key 12-0 spurt, including a hard post move for a 57-56 lead that gave Morningside the lead for keeps. Borchers delighted with a couple of crowd-pleasing dunks in the second half, but also blocked a Hoglund mid-range jumper in the scoreless spurt.
“We really picked it up on the defensive end,” said Borchers, who also provided four assists, two steals and two blocked shots. “We weren’t really doing our jobs in the first half on the defensive end. We had to change that in the second half to get after them. We wanted to make other guys beat us.”
Mason Larson lifted the Tigers within 68-64 on a three-point basket with 7:51 left, but the Mustangs responded with an 11-2 run over the next two minutes. Hahn had the last five points in the spurt, including a trey for a 77-64 advantage.
Brody Egger also contributed 12 points and six assists for a squad that’s 11-0 at home where seven of the opponents have been held under 70 points.
“I was really proud of our guys in the second half,” said Sykes. “We outrebounded them 41-23 for the game. We kept our hands off. They only shot one free throw. They made it, but if we would have put them on the line 20 times, it would have been a much-more interesting game. They didn’t have as many second-chance points compared to when we played them the first time. It was just a hard-fought game. What a great crowd.”