EISEN: Legitimacy test tonight for Magi basketball
It’s a rematch 45 days in the making. While a state championship isn’t at stake tonight, pride is.
The Minot High School boys basketball team, with the distinct menacing trademark of being the three-time defending state champions, gets its chance at redemption tonight against Bismarck Century.
The No. 2-ranked Patriots (12-2, 9-2 WDA) steamrolled the Magicians (11-3, 8-3 WDA) by 29 points, 79-50, in their first meeting on Dec. 16 in Bismarck.
A little payback after watching the Magi hoist their latest state title with a win over Century back in March at the Bismarck Event Center.
The two rivals have traded punches. As Minot steps into the ring on their home floor tonight, how they play — not necessarily the score — will determine if this fight could potentially go another round, or leave the Magi clinging to the ropes, gasping for air.
The Patriots, like everybody else in the state, are coming for Minot’s championship belt and are looking to land a knockout blow this evening in front of a sea of Maroon and Gold supporters.
If the Magi can prevent that from happening, then the realistic expectations of winning an unprecedented fourth straight state championship remain intact.
However, that can all take a back seat if Minot shows up and plays like they did on Dec. 16.
“We were really selfish with the basketball,” MHS coach Dean Winczewski said following that lopsided defeat. “They did a good job of taking us out of what we wanted to do. We were really quick to take shots and that’s what Century wants you to do. They force you into doing things faster than you want to, which leads to you doing things all on your own and not playing team basketball.”
Century manipulated Minot into playing an unwatchable version of “hero ball,” where everybody wanted to be the primary scorer to pull the Magi out of this sizeable deficit they had found themselves in. Instead of pulling a rabbit out of the hat, the Magi just kept digging themselves into a deeper hole.
Isolations were common and trying to go one-on-one was unsuccessful.
Minot shot 39.2 percent (20-for-51) from the floor and 20 percent (3-for-15) from behind the three-point line. Both marks are well below Minot’s conference season totals of 47 percent from the floor and 40 percent on 3-pointers.
The Magi, scoring a season-low 50 points, also only had two players reach double figures in scoring: Chandler Albertson (17 points) and Alex Schimke (15).
Minot is most effective on offense when they have four or more players scoring at least 10 points in a game, which has happened in 10 out of its 11 wins.
The only exception being the victory against Jamestown when they had three double-digit scorers, yet Jaxon Gunville and Albertson both finished with nine points.
In both losses to Bismarck High (69-67) and Mandan (69-66), three MHS players got over the 10-point mark.
Selfish basketball is currently the biggest threat to end the Magi’s dynasty.
They need each other to succeed. Basketball is a team sport after all.
Ball rotation, creating open shots and team defense is what made them champions. And that DNA makeup is still in there.
Look no further than what happened on Saturday in South Dakota against Spearfish, as the Magi tied the school record with 16 made 3-pointers. Six different players hit from behind the arc.
But, when the defensive pressure intensifies, the Magi lose their identity.
Everything seems to go haywire. Either they start hastily jacking up the first semi-open look they find or uncharacteristically turn the ball over. But, at least it’s a fixable problem.
Be patient. Keep moving the basketball. Make it easy for your teammate to be the hero.
Do that tonight, regardless of what the final outcome is, and Minot gets back on track in its state title defense.
This is the opinion of Alex Eisen. He covers Minot High School, Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.