After the Minnesota Duluth men’s basketball game against Mary Friday night at Romano Gym, Bulldogs coach Justin Wieck approached freshman guard Joshua Brown and asked him to guess how many rebounds he had.

“I told him five, and he replied, ‘Twelve,’” Brown said. “After he told me, that’s when I started to realize, yeah, I was crashing the boards a lot.”

Brown also scored 10 of his 16 points in the first half as Minnesota Duluth built a 37-19 halftime lead en route to a 72-50 NSIC victory over Mary, before 47 people in the first game where UMD allowed fans in attendance.

Minnesota Duluth’s Joshua Brown (1) gets off a runner over the University of Mary defense in the first half of the game at Romano Gymnasium Friday evening. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Minnesota Duluth’s Joshua Brown (1) gets off a runner over the University of Mary defense in the first half of the game at Romano Gymnasium Friday evening. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

It was also UMD’s first game in two weeks after a Winona State player tested positive for COVID-19 after the Bulldogs’ season-opening 81-59 victory Jan. 2 at Romano.

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“I’m proud of our guys for handling some adversity,” UMD coach Justin Wieck said. “We hadn’t practiced in a while, and quite honestly, we didn’t have two great days of practice leading up. I challenged them to be who we are. Our guys are really locked in.”

Sophomore Drew Blair had a game-high 20 points for the Bulldogs, while Austin Andrews (14 points) and Charlie Katona (11) also reached double figures in scoring. Local products Peter Soumis (Hermantown), Ethan Youso (Virginia) and John Sutherland (Grand Rapids) also saw action.

UMD (2-0) was picked to finish tied for fourth in the NSIC North Division, not exactly great, but the Bulldogs are too young to know any better. These players come from successful programs that are used to winning, and when it comes to that, there’s no need to check their ID.

Minnesota Duluth’s Isaiah Watts celebrates a Bulldog three pointer in the first half of their game with the University of Mary at Romano Gymnasium Friday evening in Duluth. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Minnesota Duluth’s Isaiah Watts celebrates a Bulldog three pointer in the first half of their game with the University of Mary at Romano Gymnasium Friday evening in Duluth. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

“We’re crazy young — of our top eight guys, six of them are true freshmen,” Wieck said. “We’ve got a ton of freshmen and sophomores out there, but our guys play hard and trust each other.”

Junior guard Trever Kaiser had 12 points to lead Mary (1-4) but it took 18 shots to get there as the Marauders shot an abysmal 28.8 percent in being held 10 points below their previous season low.

“We didn’t bring the focus tonight to play a good team like Duluth,” said Mary coach Joe Kittell. “We settled for way too many 3-pointers in the first half, and we just weren’t knocking them down.”

Minnesota Duluth’s Charlie Katona (24) dunks the ball  in the second half of their game with the University of Mary at Romano Gymnasium Friday evening in Duluth. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Minnesota Duluth’s Charlie Katona (24) dunks the ball in the second half of their game with the University of Mary at Romano Gymnasium Friday evening in Duluth. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Brown, a 6-foot-4 freshman from Park Center High School in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, is the perfect example of the new-look Bulldogs featuring seemingly interchangeable combinations of versatile players in that 6-4 to 6-6 range who can do a little of everything. This isn’t the traditional scheme with a 6-foot point guard, a taller off guard, a versatile swingman, a power forward and a lumbering back-to-the-basket center. Instead, it’s like everyone on this UMD team is a swingman, like having five 3s on the court who can handle the basketball, run the floor and defend the basket.

“We’re kind of long and athletic all over the board,” Wieck said. “We’ve got some length on the perimeter that we haven’t had in the past. When you’re dealing with guys who have long arms and have three or four inches on guys, you can really make life tough on them.”

As good as Brown is in that regard, Wieck called him one of the best shooters he’s ever had, making the smooth operator tough to guard inside and out.

Brown received NCAA Division I interest from Denver, North Dakota and South Dakota State.

“Ultimately, I chose UMD because I felt comfortable with the coaching staff really wanting me here,” Brown said. “I had been here a couple times and felt comfortable with the environment. And I’m just two hours out from where I live.”

With UMD allowing immediate family members in attendance from both teams, Brown’s father, Deane, and brother, Jemal, were in attendance. What fans were there went out of their way to be louder than normal, no doubt, cheering on their respective teams.

“It was nice — first game in almost a year having my father and my brother and just having fans in attendance,” Joshua Brown said. “And our first game in two weeks. I was one of the guys who had to quarantine, so for 10 days, I couldn’t do anything. I would just sit in my dorm with my roommate. It was unfortunate, but it felt great to be back.”

Minnesota Duluth 72, Mary 50

Mary — Wyatt Carr 2-4 0-0 5, Matthew Kreklow 1-5 1-2 3, Trever Kaiser 3-18, 4-4 12, Glenn Jordan 1-2 2-2 4, Josh Sipes 1-3 2-2 5, Justin Engg 0-2 0-0 0, Kam Warrens 2-4 0-2 4, Deven Franks 2-7 2-2 6, Lucas Mayer 0-1 0-0 0, Treyton Mattern 2-9 0-0 5, Davis Atelbauers 2-3 0-0 4, Regan Tollefson 1-1 0-0 2, Cooper Olson 0-0 0-2 0. Totals 17-59 11-16 50.

Minnesota Duluth — Charlie Katona 4-8 3-4 11, Austin Andrews 7-10 0-2 14, Joshua Brown 6-12 0-1 16, Zach Lea 2-3 0-1 4, Drew Blair 7-16 2-2 20, Mason Steffen 1-3 0-0 2, Cole Nicholson 1-4 0-0 2, Peter Soumis 1-1 0-2 3, Ethan Youso 0-1 0-0 0, John Sutherland 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 29-59 5-12 72.

Halftime — UMD 37, Mary 19. 3-point goals — Mary 5-29 (Carr 1-3, Kreklow 0-2, Kaiser 2-10, Jordan 0-1, Sipes 1-3, Engg 0-1, Warrens 0-1, Franks 0-3, Mattern 1-4, Atelbauers 0-1), UMD 9-25 (Katona 0-1, Brown 4-9, Blair 4-11, Steffen 0-1, Nicholson 0-1, Soumis 1-1, Youso 0-1). Fouls — Mary 17, UMD 14. Fouled out — None. Rebounds — Mary 38 (Kreklow 10), UMD 39 (Brown 12). Assists — Mary 8 (Carr, Kreklow 2), UMD 14 (Blair 5). Turnovers — Mary 14 (Kreklow 6), UMD 11 (Brown 3).