It was a clash of top ten teams in Class AAA Monday night at jam-packed Packer Gym as the Austin Packers, the No. 10 team in the state in Class AAA hosted the Big 9 Conference champion Mankato East Cougars, the No. 2 team in the rankings behind No. 1 Minnehaha Academy. In a back-and-forth battle all night long, the Cougars were able to hit two key 3-pointers in the last 1:30 to hold Austin at bay and win 65-57.
Senior guard Agwa Nywesh, who has been offered a scholarship at Utah St. University scored the first eight points for Austin, and a left-handed layup on a drive to the hoop by Teyghan Hovland gave the Packers an early 10-4 lead. Nywesh later found Victor Idris for a layup and scored on a short jumper in the lane to give Austin a 19-14 lead, but East rallied with a 15-4 run to take a 29-23 lead. A blocked shot by Moses Idris led to a one-handed dunk for brother Victor to cut the Cougar lead to 29-25 at the half.
The second half saw Mankato East start with a 9-3 run to take a ten-point lead at 38-28, but a bucket for Lero Oman on a pick-and-roll cut the Cougar lead to 38-30. The Packers picked up jumpers from Pierre Lilly and Moses Idris to stay within striking range at 42-34, and a steal and a two-handed dunk for Nywesh and a runner from Okey Okey shaved the Cougar lead to three at 42-39 with 7:10 remaining. Austin drew even at 47 with threes from Nywesh and Okey, and a dunk by Victor Idris again tied the game a short time later at 51. Hovland rebounded a missed shot, and his put-back hoop with 1:49 to go tied the game again at 53, but Pal Kueth hit a baseline three to put the Cougars up 56-53 with 1:30 left and Joich Gong swished another three from the wing to give the Cougars a 59-53 with only 45 seconds left. Nywesh scored inside to cut East’s lead to 59-55 with :38 left, but the deficit was too much for the Packers to overcome as the Cougars iced the game at the free throw line in the final seconds for the win.
Nywesh helped to lead the way for the Packers with 21 points, five rebounds and five assists, while Teyghan Hovland ended up with nine points in the game. Okey Okey added eight points, Moses Idris chipped in seven points, Victor Idris scored six points, Lero Oman added four and Pierre Lilly two in the loss for Austin, who fell to 20-5 on the season. The win for Mankato East was their 21st in a row, and they are now 21-0 in confernence play and 23-1 overall. Their only loss of the season thus far was to defending Class AAA champion DeLaSalle 67-63 at the Tip-Off Classic in Hopkins back on December 7th.
Austin will close out the regular season at Albert Lea against the Tigers on Friday night, with the varsity tip-off scheduled for 7:30 p.m.