BISMARCK - The lights beaming down on the arena floor at the Bismarck Civic Center shine brighter than every venue the Minot High boys basketball team has played in this season.
The Magicians needed 18 minutes to get used to the spotlight and large crowd at the West Region tournament Thursday.
Fourth-seeded Minot scored the first nine points out of halftime and put a 69-38 pounding on fifth-seeded Turtle Mountain. The Magicians face the No. 1 seed, Century, in the semifinals at 5:30 p.m. today.
Minot High sophomore center Braydon Lund, left, jumps for the opening tip during the Magicians’ 69-38 win over Turtle Mountain on Thursday at the Bismarck Civic Center. Lund had 12 points and 12 boards.
Minot High senior center Colter Hustad, right, scored a game-high 16 points and pulled down eight rebounds.
"You look at it, we start two sophomores and two juniors," Minot coach Dean Winczewski said. "We bring another junior off the bench and we bring in a couple seniors who haven't played in this environment. It's a new environment, it's an exciting thing."
Once his nerves settled, sophomore center Braydon Lund imposed his will in the post, dominating the first few minutes out of the break. He dumped in six points during Minot's 9-0 run and finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds - 11 and eight of which came in the final 18 minutes.
"It might have been (nerves) just a little, but once you get used to it, you just have to realize you have to come out and have fun and enjoy the game," Lund said.
Minot (14-5) utilized its size advantage down low in turning a 27-21 halftime advantage into a commanding 66-34 lead when its starters subbed out with 3:52 remaining. After struggling from beyond the arc (3-for-13 in the first half), the Magicians traded long-range jumpers for easy layups and putbacks. In the second half, they shot 51.4 percent.
"Coach pretty much demanded that the guards get it in the post because we all knew that we had a size advantage down low," Minot senior center Colter Hustad said. "The guards know that once they get it to us, we'll kick it out to them."
Hustad, maybe the lone player from either team not affected by the big stage, poured in a game-high 16 points to go with eight rebounds. He attracted double- and triple-teams, opening up driving lanes and spot-up jumpers for teammates. That helped the Magicians clean up the errors that plagued them in the first half.
"We didn't turn it over," Winczewski said. "First half I think we had 10 turnovers, which is ludicrous to have that many. You're not going to beat anybody with that. We were able to come out in the second half and execute."
Minot tallied 19 assists and 15 turnovers for the game, while Turtle Mountain recorded just seven helpers and committed 23 turnovers.
The Braves (7-13) never found their offensive rhythm, shooting 25.4 percent (15-59) to score a measly 0.54 points per possession. Junior forward Nathan Martin was Turtle Mountain's lone scorer in double figures. He had 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
"I think the biggest thing is we've struggled all year to make shots," Turtle Mountain coach DJ McGillis said. "We had it within six (at halftime) and we miss five shots and they go on a little thing and start pounding it inside and our big man wasn't defending.
"Our defense and our shot selections were not good in the second half."
Junior point guard Dakota Halvorson registered 10 points and four assists for Minot, which can secure a state tournament berth with a win today after missing the event last season. But the Magicians have their hands full with top-ranked Century. They fell by an average of 22 points in a pair of regular-season losses to the Patriots.
"We've got to come with the attitude to go to work," Winczewski said. "We got outworked and outexecuted for two games. We'll see how tough we are coming out of this."
Ryan Holmgren covers Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.