Mason Larson’s return was felt beyond the stat sheet.
The Dakota Wesleyan University men’s basketball team played its past four games without the versatile and lengthy Larson, who sustained a foot injury on Jan. 30. The Tigers went 1-3 during Larson’s four-game absence.
He returned in a big way during Saturday’s 77-70 win over Jamestown University at the Corn Palace. The junior forward posted 15 points, seven rebounds, three assists, three steals and three 3-pointers in his return.
And perhaps most importantly, he showed why he’s the emotional leader of the Tigers.
“I just can’t say enough about him and his juice and energy,” DWU coach Matt Wilber said. “We look like a different team with him out there.”
Wilber called Larson the “heart” of the team when describing his impact. DWU junior forward Koln Oppold, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds, used a similar analogy about his teammate.
“He’s our lifeblood,” Oppold said. “He gives us so much energy defensively. He’s one of the best defenders I’ve ever played with. He’s just everywhere. He’s crazy, but he gets the job done.”
Larson said he felt “brand new” and picked up on some tendencies during his four-game hiatus.
“You kind of see the game from a whole different perspective,” Larson said. “So I kind of knew the things we were struggling at and kind of knew the things we needed to get better at. I just tried to bring energy and bring us together and try to help the team anyway I could.”
The 6-foot-7 Larson looked noticeably fresher in the opening minutes on Saturday. He went 3 of 3 shooting 3-pointers in the first half to spark a 41-29 first-half lead.
Larson, who leads the GPAC in blocks with 34, also impacted the Tigers’ defensive performance. The Jimmies started 6-foot-9 Mason Walters and 6-foot-6 Brady Birch, while 6-foot-8 Brock Schrom came off the bench. Walters is averaging conference-highs in points (21) and rebounds (12), but finished with 14 points and five rebounds.
Larson, Drew Cole, Jeffrey Schuch, Ace Zorr and Teegan Evers all played a hand in defending the imposing Jamestown frontcourt.
“There were a few times we fouled and a few times we broke down and didn’t have a good defensive possession,” Larson said. “But for the most part, we made every shot hard and that’s all you can ask for.”
The Tigers allowed 80 points during Larson’s four-game absence. But with Larson back in the lineup, the Tigers held Jamestown to 13 points below its season average of 83 points. The Jimmies needed a late surge on offense to crack 70 points Saturday.
“That was the best version of ourselves right there, especially on the defensive end,” Wilber said. “We really competed. We got back to guarding and playing the way that we can guard.”
With the win, the Tigers (18-7) also secured the No. 4 seed in the GPAC tournament. They will host No. 5 Concordia (17-8) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Corn Palace.