Mandan ends Minot’s quest for a historic four-peat

Alex Eisen/MDN Mandan sophomore Elijah Klein (32) at the free throw line with under a minute to go in the forth quarter. He made both to carry Mandan to a 72-69 victory over Minot High in a WDA loser-out game Saturday at the Bismarck Event Center.

BISMARCK — Just like that, it’s all over.

The burden of becoming the first North Dakota Class A boys basketball program to win four consecutive state championships proved to be too much for Minot High School.

After losing a heartbreaker on a buzzer beater Friday in a WDA tournament semifinal, the No. 4-seeded Magicians (18-6) fell by the same three-point margin Saturday, 72-69, in a loser-out contest to No. 3-seeded Mandan (20-4) at the Bismarck Event Center.

Two agonizing defeats in two days ended Minot’s three-year dominance.

“You have a group of kids that absolutely spilled their guts for each other, love each other and take care of each other,” MHS coach Dean Winczewski said. “You fall a few points short and the hurt is immeasurable. It’s something they will get over, but I don’t want them to forget what they built here and what they were a part of.”

Alex Eisen/MDN Minot High senior Chandler Albertson (1) lines up a shot Saturday in Bismarck.

The Braves pried away Minot’s state tournament ticket to Fargo next week with a gritty performance.

“This was going to be our toughest game of the season with Minot being the three-time defending state champions,” Mandan coach Brandon Schaefer said. “We knew we had to bring our top game. I’m so proud of the resiliency we played with. We definitely earned this after going through Bismarck yesterday and Minot today. It’s a tough route, but we got our two wins that we wanted”

Minot was off its game even before the opening tip-off, as senior Chandler Albertson jumped up prematurely and took Alex Schimke’s spotlight when announcing the starting lineups.

Covering up the hangover of Friday’s loss was futile at times, but the Magi kept doing just enough to stick with the Braves throughout the contest. Well, at least until the very end.

Minot’s largest lead came at 27-20 when Albertson took over by scoring five straight points late in the first half. He finished with a team-high 23 points, four rebounds and three steals.

“This is not a feeling I have ever felt before,” Albertson said about the game. “I hope the underclassmen feel the same way and don’t want to feel this way, so next year they will come hungrier than ever.”

While Albertson kept slashing to the rim, Mandan 6-foot-6 sophomore Elijah Klein just set up shop around the paint.

Klein powered his way to a double-double with a game-high 28 points and 15 rebounds. He didn’t stop there. Klein padded his stat line with three assists, two blocks and a steal.

Minot’s one-point lead at halftime, 33-32, traded hands five times to start the second half before sophomore Jaxon Gunville unloaded an NBA 3-pointer to tie the score at 40-40.

Back-and-forth they went to the finish with either team unable to pull more than five points ahead. And Minot eventually had to transition into a 2-3 zone to try and slow down Klein and senior forward Trae Steckler, who finished with 16 points and six rebounds.

The Braves held the Magi to 1-for-9 shooting on 3-pointers in the first half, but Minot hit five in the second half to hang around.

“We talked this morning – we watched film and had a short shootaround – and made some adjustments from when we played them in Minot,” Schaefer said. “We defended the ball screens a little differently and in a way we have never practiced. And I think it hurt us one time when Schimke made a big three. Other than that, we defended it exactly how we were supposed to.”

Schimke sank his triple off the dribble step-in to put Minot back in the lead 63-61. That came following a forceful move from sophomore forward Devin Mikell, who brought down a rebound with one hand, went up and forced an and-one.

Two more NBA 3-pointers by a red-hot Gunville and the Magi were leading 69-66 with under two minutes to play. Gunville racked up 17 points on five made 3-pointers.

With Minot still leading 69-68 after a pair of made Mandan free throws, Klein blocked Albertson on a rim attack. However, Minot got the ball back with the shot clock turned off when Mandan committed an offensive push off foul.

Catch and cradle the basketball could have possibly clinched a Minot state tournament berth with some made free throws, instead Klein stole the inbounds pass.

He drove straight to the rim and drew a foul. Klein made both free throws, giving the Magi 16.3 seconds to answer to save their season. But, to no avail, as a twisting shot in the lane from Albertson rolled off the iron.

“We battled hard, but it just wasn’t enough,” Albertson said.

Mandan’s Trae Steckler made two free throws with .3 seconds left, leaving senior Peyton Lamoureux with no chance of catching and making a game-tying triple in the time remaining.

Mandan advances to its first state tournament since the 2012-13 season. Ironically, it’s the same season in which Minot High didn’t make its last state tournament before this year’s campaign.

Minot will graduate six seniors: Albertson, Lamoureux, Lofton Klabunde, Deven Forbes, Collin Knudsen and Paxten Wahlund.

“It was a great season,” Albertson said. “This is my family. I have grown up and played with these guys since traveling basketball in like sixth grade. So, this is my family. It didn’t end how we wanted it to, but we are still a family.”

Pulling the curtain down on the season, Winczewski said: “Everybody looks at the state titles, and they are wonderful things, but don’t kid yourself. It’s more than that. The tradition that is Minot basketball is carried out by them and how they treat each other, how they handle themselves and the work they do. You can’t put that into words. They are wonderful young men.

“In a few days, I’m going to look back on it as one (season) that took a group of kids that needed to become a family to be successful and they did that. We made a heck of a run at the end and it’s a couple of plays short from going on. I’m not going to look at it as a failure and no one else should.”

Alex Eisen covers Minot High School, Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.