MARSHALL - Area basketball fans have been anticipating the matchup all season, but the MACCRAY Wolverines and Dawson-Boyd Blackjacks still had to play out the games.
Now, finally, the games have been played and both state-ranked teams are back in the Section 3A-North boys basketball final for the second straight season. The wait is nearly over.
The top-seeded and fourth-ranked Blackjacks advanced to the final by breezing past No. 5 seed Lincoln HI with a 76-36 victory in Thursday's 3A-North semifinal at the R/A Facility at Southwest Minnesota State University. The win was the Blackjack's 17th straight. Fifteen of those wins have come by at least 10 points, most by 20 or 30. One of the two single-digit wins was against MACCRAY, an 80-75 overtime victory on Feb. 3. MACCRAY was also the last team to beat the Blackjacks, winning 65-64 back on Jan. 13.
Photo by Matt Dahlseid
Dawson-Boyd junior guard Nathaniel Huot, right, is fouled by Lincoln HI sophomore guard Jordan Beck in the first half of Thursday night’s Section 3A-North semifinal game at the R/A Facility at Southwest Minnesota State University.
The two teams have seemed destined for a collision course since their last meeting, but Dawson-Boyd head coach Cory Larson said the focus has always been on the Blackjacks' next opponent on the schedule. They've tried not to think ahead.
"Everybody has kind of expected us and MACCRAY to be in the sub-section championship game," Larson said. "We've tried to keep it one game at a time. I know that's a very old adage, but it really was true. Even though you've had a lot of success, that doesn't mean you're going to win a game like tonight.
"I think the guys have understood that and now they kind of have that feel that the pressure is off because everything was expected to get to the MACCRAY game. Now it's time to get out there and let it fly and see what happens."
Lincoln HI (36)
Josh Bednarek 3 0-0 8, Andrew Swanson 1 0-0 3, Preston Alderson 1 0-0 2, Ryan Rybinski 1 0-0 3, Nate Pavek 0 2-4 2, Jeramie Blegen 5 2-3 12, Travis Studemann 1 0-0 2, Dion Nelson 2 0-0 4. Totals 14 4-7 36. Three-pointers 4 (Bednarek 2) Rebounds 25 (Blegen 5, Nelson 5) Assists 10 (Swanson 3) Steals 4 (Swanson 2) Blocks 0 Turnovers 19 Total Fouls 14.
Nathaniel Huot 3 304 10, Zach Stelter 2 1-1 5, Joey Lee 6 5-5 19, Kyler Collins 1 0-0 3, Evan Robertson 4 3-3 11, Michael Lee 3 0-0 7, Jack Hansen 4 2-2 13, Ryan Sumner 1 0-0 2, Jon Tensen 2 2-2 6. Totals 26 16-17 76. Three-pointers 8 (Hansen 3, J. Lee 2) Rebounds 34 (Robertson 10, Stelter 6, J. Lee 5) Assists 13 (Huot 4, J. Lee 4) Steals 10 (Stelter 3, Huot 2, J. Lee 2) Blocks 1 Turnovers 11 Total Fouls 11.
Halftime Score: Dawson-Boyd 39, Lincoln HI 18.
The Blackjacks (25-2 overall) and Wolverines (22-6) will do battle at 8 p.m. Saturday at the R/A Facility at SMSU. MACCRAY, last year's Section 3A champion, advanced to the 3A-North finals with an 83-64 victory over Ortonville.
Dawson-Boyd enters the matchup coming off of an impressive performance against Lincoln HI. The Blackjacks suffocated the Rebels with their stiff man-to-man defense, holding Lincoln HI (11-11) to just 28 percent shooting from the field. The Blackjacks also used tough ball pressure to force several turnovers and create fastbreak opportunities, which they were able to capitalize on with great efficiency.
Lincoln HI stayed within striking distance over the first six minutes, pulling to within 14-11 after back-to-back baskets inside by center Jeramie Blegen. From there, Dawson-Boyd went on a 17-2 run to take total control.
Dawson-Boyd guard Joey Lee scored 19 points in the game and 10 points during the Blackjacks' big run. He hit two threes, knocked down a jumper from the right elbow and also had a slashing drive through the lane that he finished with a layup to put the Blackjacks up 31-13 with 4 minutes, 45 seconds left in the first half.
It was a better start to the game than what the Blackjacks had in their first game of the tournament, a 74-47 win over Lakeview where they weren't able to put away the Lakers until the second half.
"We just wanted to come out strong," Lee said. "To start out the Lakeview game, we just didn't have the intensity that we wanted. In this game, we like to get up and down the court, get out in transition and rebound well, and that's what we did tonight. We got out and got a lead early and just continued it throughout the game."
The Blackjacks brought that same energy into the second half of Thursday's game, going on a 23-3 run over the first 5:30 to grab a 62-21 edge.
A whole host of players got involved offensively for the Blackjacks. Guard Jack Hansen hit three three-pointers and scored 13 points, forward Evan Robertson had 11 points and 10 rebounds (six offensive), and guard Nathaniel Huot had 10 points and four assists for Dawson-Boyd, which shot 8 of 18 from three-point range and 44 percent from the field.
As potent as Blackjacks were offensively, they were equally stifling on the defensive end. Lincoln HI centers Jeramie Blegen (6-foot-7) and Dion Nelson (6-3) scored 17 and 15 points, respectively, in an overtime win over Canby last Saturday. Thursday, Blegen was held to 12 points on 5 of 12 shooting and Nelson had just four points. Larson said a focus for his team was limiting the big men's touches in the paint, and in the second half the two centers were being muscled out to the perimeter.
Lincoln HI head coach Brock Citterman said it's just hard to game plan for going up against a defense like the Blackjacks'.
"We started it out getting inside, getting good looks and we were even up a little early, but their pressure made us make passes we didn't want to make, take shots we didn't want to take," Citterman said. "They just sped us up a little faster than we're used to playing. We kind of got out of rhythm there early."
Blegen led his team in scoring with his 12 points. Guard Josh Bednarek hit two three-pointers and finished with eight points, all coming in the first half. No other Rebel scored more than four points.
It was a rough way to go out for Lincoln HI, but Citterman felt his team put together a strong campaign in 2011-12 considering its recent past.
"It was a solid season, the best we've had in a few years," he said. "The kids came to work every day and I give them credit. They're one of the best groups I've had so far and we got out of them what we could this year. It was a good season for us overall."
Now the stage is set for the Blackjacks and Wolverines. The score on the season is 1-1. Whichever team gets to two moves on to the Section 3A title game and keeps its Class A state tournament hopes alive. The moment is nearly here, and the Blackjacks are ready.
"We know a lot of the things they like to do, they know a lot of the things we like to do, it's just going to be a great game," Lee said. "I think the better team is going to win. We split this season, so we'll find out who the better team is on Saturday."