MOORHEAD — When Minnesota State Moorhead looked vulnerable Friday night at Alex Nemzek Fieldhouse, senior Gavin Baumgartner got cooking.
Baumgartner poured in 17 points in the game's final seven minutes. He finished with a career-high 32 points to fuel the Dragons to an 84-70 victory against Mayville State in nonconference men's basketball.
"He had a really good game and he should, he’s a fifth-year guy and you expect him to step up like that," Dragons head coach Chad Walthall said.
The Dragons (4-3) have won four of their past five games to climb above the .500 mark this season. MSUM starts Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference play at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 23, at Alex Nemzek Fieldhouse.
"Mayville is a very good team. They have a very good team," Walthall said. "I was proud of our guys, the way that they fought. We knew it would be a tough game."
The Comets (3-2) overall record stayed the same as the game counted as an exhibition on their schedule.
Mayville State, which lost to Division I University of North Dakota 68-64 earlier this season, took a 63-61 lead against the Dragons after junior guard Thomas Gieske sank a 3-pointer with 7 minutes, 5 seconds remaining in the second half.
"They're a super solid team," Baumgartner said.
The Dragons countered with 23 of the next 28 points to power back into the lead for good. The 6-foot-4 Baumgartner scored 17 points during that game-changing surge. His reverse layup gave MSUM a 68-63 lead with 5:57 to play.
Baumgartner added a 15-foot jumper for a 76-66 lead with 3:10 remaining. He capped his scoring flurry with a 3-pointer that gave the Dragons an 84-68 edge with 43 seconds remaining.
“I hit a couple 3s down the stretch where I found a little bit of rhythm," Baumgartner said.
Baumgartner, who hit 12 of 19 shots from the floor, scored 22 points in the second half. The Dragons scored 48 points after halftime on 17-for-31 shooting (55%) from the field.
"We’ve got a lot of options, so we’ll figure it out as the season goes along," Baumgartner said. "Our depth is unbelievable. That’s one strength we have going into conference."
Walthall said the Dragons have 11 players who he considers solid rotations players.
"It’s the deepest team we’ve ever had here without question." said Walthall, who has been the Dragons head coach since 2010.
Walthall said that depth played a role in the Dragons fending off the Comets down the stretch.
"We played 10 players and I think we were pretty fresh down the stretch," Walthall said. "It was a tough matchup for us. Their guards are very athletic."
Senior guard Winder Joseph paced the Comets with 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting from the floor. Mayville State shot 50% (8 of 16) from 3-point range.
"I was proud of our guys, the way that they fought," Walthall said. "We knew it would be a tough game."
The Dragons built a five-point halftime lead. Senior forward Gatdoar Kueth had a strong first half, scoring 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting from the floor. The 6-foot-6 Kueth, who came off the bench, played nine minutes in the opening half. He scored a basket that gave the Dragons a 36-31 lead with 48 seconds to play in the first half. MSUM carried that lead into halftime.
Baumgartner also had a stellar first 20 minutes with 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting from the field. MSUM led by as many as eight points in the first half.
"We’ve been working on respecting every possession. Sometimes we may make mental mistakes that we’ve got to show up," Walhall said. "We’re kind of a mixed bag. There’s times where we have played very well."
The Dragons have had a challenging nonconference schedule with two games played against teams that were ranked in the top five in Division II. MSUM split those games against highly ranked opponents. Wathall said this is the toughest nonconference slate the Dragons have played in his time leading the program. They played their first five games in Texas and Oklahoma.
"By far, it’s not even close," Walthall said.
Walthall said those tough opponents will help the team as it opens conference play next week.
"You just want to challenge your guys and see where you’re at," Walthall said. "We haven’t played as well was we had hoped or liked. ... You find your warts pretty quick when you play teams like. I think it’s going to help us be a much better basketball team in a month."
MAYVILLE STATE (3-2): Griffin 1-3 0-0 2, Gieske 6-10 0-1 14, Franklin 3-10 1-3 9, Grayson 3-4 5-5 11, Joseph 6-9 2-2 16, Mitchell 1-1 0-0 2, Abed 0-0 0-0 0, Dillenbeck 1-2 0-0 2, Safra 1-2 0-0 2, Ketchel 0-2 1-2 1, Kramer 4-8 1-2 11. Totals 26-51 10-15 70.
MSUM (4-3): McGhee 0-7 0-0 0, Baumgartner 12-19 4-6 32, Sem 0-2 0-0 0, Irsfeld 2-8 0-0 4, Zimmer 6-8 0-3 12, Myren 1-1 1-2 3, Kueth 6-11 3-3 15, Bergh 3-6 2-2 8, Beeninga 1-4 4-4 7, Kaiser 1-4 0-0 3. Totals 32-70 14-20 84.
Half: MSUM 36, Mayville 31. 3-point goals: Mayville 8-16 (Griffin 0-1, Giesek 2-4, Franklin 2-4, Joseph 2-3, Ketchel 0-1, Kramer 2-3), MSUM 6-20 (McGhee 0-2, Baumgartner 4-8, Irsfeld 0-4, Kueth 0-1, Beeninga 1-2, Kaiser 1-3). Total fouls: Mayville 19, MSUM 18. Rebounds: Mayville 30 (Kramer 7), MSUM 42 (Zimmer 11). Assists: Mayville 13 (Franklin 7), MSUM 15 (Baumgartner 5). Turnovers: Mayville 20 (Franklin 6), MSUM 9 (three players with 2).