SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Jefferson Mason is going to draw a lot of attention. It comes with the territory of being an All-American.


But the senior Minnesota State-Mankato guard doesn’t mind the spotlight. He embraces it and is looking forward to leading his team into action Wednesday at the NCAA Division II Elite Eight.

“It’s been an amazing experience. We’ve had some ups and downs, but being one of our senior leaders, I’ve tried to step up my game.”

Mason is averaging 19.1 points per game and is also pulling down 8.6 rebounds per outing. He has tallied 35 steals and blocked 26 shots as well.

“My rebounding has improved a lot, and I think my defensive presence has really made a difference,” Mason said. “I’ve worked real hard to be a better defender this year.”

His head coach, Matt Margenthaler, said the thing that makes Mason such a great player is that his athletic ability is unreal.

“Jefferson has outstanding athleticism. He is a freak athlete,” Margenthaler said. “He is also the ultimate teammate and gets the job done on both ends of the floor.”

Mason isn’t the only player the Mavericks (27-4) have relied on during their quest for a national championship.

Senior guards Marcus Hill (16.2 ppg) and Cameron Hodges (13.2 ppg) have been steady contributors as well for No. 8 Mankato, which is making its first trip to the Elite Eight and will battle seventh-ranked Alabama-Huntsville (29-4) at 2:30 p.m. in a national quarterfinal at the MassMutual Center.

The Mavericks are scoring 81.2 points per outing and giving up 70.4. They are shooting 48.7 percent from the field as a team.

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“Our depth has been very important,” Margenthaler said. “We have three solid players but we have other guys that can step up and take over a game. We know we are going to have to play very disciplined because Huntsville runs a Princeton offense. Our focus is going to be important.”

The Mavericks have had teams in the past that appeared to be contenders for a national championship. The interesting thing is this team isn’t exactly one of them, at least not when the season began.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Margenthaler said. “This is our seventh straight NCAA tournament and it’s been a great ride. This is not the most talented team we’ve had, but we have played the best team basketball. We came together at the right time.”

Mankato is one of four No. 1 seeds in the Elite Eight and it had to survive a rigorous Central Regional that included two former national champions in Winona State and Metro State. The Mavericks crushed Fort Lewis 81-63 in the regional final.

“We have a lot of confidence because we were able to beat programs that have won national titles in the past,” Mason said. “We know we can play with anyone. Defense and rebounding are going to be the keys to our success.”

As for taking the floor in the Elite Eight for the first time in his life, Mason isn’t worried about being swallowed up by the pressure of playing on such a big stage.

“We have to stay even keel. We can’t get too high or too low,” Mason said. “We just have to keep doing what we have done to get this far. If we play our way, we will be successful.”