Unsung players lift Mavs: Kenshalo, Flohr lead Mesa to regional win

Brian Kenshalo swoops under the defense of Winona State’s Xavier Humphred on Saturday to score two of his 19 points in the Mavs’ 73-68 victory in the first round of the Central Region in Mankato, Minn.


To listen to Mesa State’s post-game press conference with coach Jim Heaps and players Michael Dominguez, Brian Kenshalo and Sean Flohr:


To listen to Winona State’s post-game press conference with coach Mike Leaf and players Ben Fischer and Jon Walburg:


MANKATO, Minn. — It wasn’t Michael Dominguez. It wasn’t Jase Herl.

No, the two guys who led the Mesa State College men’s basketball team to its first-ever victory in the NCAA Division II playoffs Saturday weren’t the seniors who have paved the way this season.

Instead, Brian Kenshalo, a 6-foot-3 sophomore guard, and Sean Flohr, a 6-5 senior forward, were the go-to guys for the Mavericks in their thrilling 73-68 come-from-behind victory over Winona (Minn.) State.

“I just get told every time, get ready to shoot, catch and shoot,” Kenshalo said. “That’s what I’ve been told all year. Sometimes it doesn’t go in, but tonight it did. I want to keep dancing; I love it out here.”

Kenshalo, as streaky a shooter as there ever was, hit his first 3-pointer of the game and never cooled off, scoring 19 points, one off his season high.

Flohr, who is only able to play because an epidural relieved the pain in his back, had perhaps his finest game of the season, with 14 points and four huge offensive rebounds.

“I’ve been trying to be more aggressive this week in practice, thinking shot first before passing,” Flohr said. “I think that’s helped, that my focus has been more on shooting the ball.”

The Mavericks have gotten so used to falling behind this season that they actually seem to be more comfortable playing from behind than with a lead.

“We got down a little bit but what’s been good about this team this year, we’ve been down all year long,” coach Jim Heaps said. “I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but we’ve been down a lot of times this year and they just really believe in what they’re doing.”

Mesa State (23-5) plays Augustana (S.D.) College (23-6), an 87-73 winner over New Mexico Highlands, at 4 (MDT) this afternoon.

Mesa State’s depth and bulldogged tenacity finally wore down the Warriors, who were up 46-35 with 14:48 to play.

Flohr hit a 3 and Lance Fite took a charge. Kenshalo made two free throws and Flohr buried another 3 from the wing. Only two minutes after being down 11, the Mavs trailed by only three, 46-43, and had seized the momentum.

Michael Bear took a pass from Aaron Markham for a layup, and after a missed 3 on the other end, Dominguez hit a pull-up jumper in the lane for Mesa State’s first lead, 51-50, with 7:47 remaining.

After a timeout, Kenshalo hit another 3. Dominguez saw a 3 rim out, but Flohr crashed in from the weak side for a tip-in with 5:47 left for a 56-62 lead.

Mesa State’s bench outscored Winona’s reserves 41-6, the Mavs had 18 points off turnovers and their 16 offensive rebounds led to 18 points.

Free throws made the difference. Mesa State, which shoots 71 percent from the line as a team, made 22 straight and 23 of 24 in the game. Winona, which made three more field goals and one more 3 than the Mavs, went 11 of 20 from the line.

The Mavs’ first miss came with 3.1 seconds left when Herl missed the front end of a two-shot foul. He made the second to put the game away.

“I give Mesa credit, they did a nice job getting dribble penetration,” Winona coach Mike Leaf said. “Clayton (Vette, a 6-8 center) had to step up and help on the penetration and they did a nice job making the bounce pass for the layup.

“(Kenshalo) is tough from the perimeter and we left him open a couple of times. They were making that run and we weren’t able to answer.”

Dominguez didn’t get flustered by Winona’s physical play against him, bumping and holding him as he tried to make his cuts.

“If I let it bother me, it will affect the rest of the team and it’s going to affect the other guys if I’m out there pouting to the refs or not playing hard,” Dominguez said. “It’s something you have to fight through and it’s going to happen every game.”

In the second half, the Mavericks became the aggressors, clawing for rebounds and loose balls. They got each other open, ran the offense and closed out hard on shooters.

Dominguez was fouled on an offensive rebound and hit a pair of free throws for the Mavs’ biggest lead, 62-56, with 2:50 to go.

“Sometimes you get those games that are just kind of grind-it-out games and you’re not playing your best and stuff’s not necessarily falling for you,” Heaps said. “They become toughness games. Our kids just toughed it out in the second half.”


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