The Magi are still a deserving No. 2

Ahead of Monday’s West Region boys basketball showdown between No. 1 Century and No. 2 Minot High, I knew the atmosphere at Magic City Campus would be one to remember.

I didn’t even need to walk into the building to get my first taste of it.

After pulling into the parking lot around 7 p.m. – still roughly 30 minutes before the varsity tipoff – I found myself circling the lot like I never have before, only to then wind up in the auxiliary lot located next to the football practice field adjacent to Burdick Exwy.

That left me a healthy trek up to the high school amid the evening’s balmy 28-degree temperature. In that moment, I knew the gymnasium toward which I was walking was bound to be packed.

Quite the understatement.

With the junior-varsity game still wrapping up, I walked into the lobby area at Magic City Campus with a few hundred already socializing amid the lengthy concession lines and the tables from which free ice cream was being distributed by Minot State representatives. The maroon and gold of Minot High was everywhere, as the fans from both sides flooded the entryway with hope of seeing their team triumph in yet another 1-2 showdown between the Magicians and Patriots.

At that point, I was amazed by the turnout from both sides.

And then I stepped into the gym…

Again with a half hour still remaining before the start of Monday’s marquee matchup, I could immediately tell there were at least 2,000 people in the stands alone, not to mention the few hundred additional fans lining all corners of the court. Student sections from both schools were positioned on opposite ends of the floor, while several others found spots on portable bleachers to find a glimpse of the action.

It was a crowd built for a special occasion.

And once again, Minot and Century didn’t disappoint.

Most already know what happened. In the fifth consecutive meeting between both schools showcased by a 1-2 matchup, the top-ranked Patriots and defending state runners-up held on for a two-point win over Minot, responding from a 10-point, second-half deficit in the process to preserve their unblemished record in West Region play.

The Magicians have now lost three games since the start of last season. All have come against Century in the regular season.

And now, with the release of this week’s state media poll set for 7 p.m. today, will we see the Magi slip from their No. 2 spot?

I can’t say for sure.

But I will say this: they shouldn’t.

The 2,000-plus at Magic City Campus witnessed the two best Class A programs in the state – by far – duke it out from start to finish Monday night, a spectacle that dazzled the eye and tested the heart rates of fans on both sides.

And with their victory, the Patriots established themselves as the clear-cut No. 1 contender for this year’s state title. That much can’t be denied that this point.

“The biggest thing is we took care of the basketball,” Century coach Darin Mattern said. “In the first half we had some catastrophic errors that led to points for them, and we eliminated them in the second half for the most part.”

But after Century, Minot is still comfortably among the state’s top-two teams, and it’s not even a question.

Sure, No. 4-ranked Dickinson tested the Magicians on their home-court behind another all-time performance (56 points) from their junior phenom Aanen Moody. Sure, the Magicians have lost just as many overall games as No. 3 West Fargo, and as many region games as No. 5 Devils Lake.

But for me, the Patriots are still the only team in the state that can hold a candle to Minot.

“We feel very fortunate to come up here and win on their floor,” Mattern said. “We know this isn’t the last time we will see this basketball team. Give Winczewski credit, both to him and his kids. They’re a class program, and they make you raise the bar because they are pretty good. We are fortunate that we made one more play tonight.”

That one extra play could have been erased by two.

Senior guard DiAndre Booker and junior guard KyJuan Johnson both had chances to snatch a one-point lead for Minot with fewer than 20 seconds to play. Both close-range shots caromed off the rim and out.

But the game didn’t come down to those plays alone.

“We gave up way too many second chances,” Minot senior post Braydon Lund said. “We gave them too many second chances, and ultimately it led to them winning.”

It’s true. Of Century’s 30 rebounds, 12 were fielded on the offensive glass, yielding 16 second-chance for the Patriots.

“We stopped digging our heels down and we stopped guarding,” Lund said. “We let him get to the middle where he wants to get. We let him get to the line. It was a break down on our part.”

Without those breakdowns, we’re likely talking about a Minot victory.

And the truth is, the Magicians are too good of a team to let this fester for long. They know what they didn’t do well Monday night, and they know which areas they need to address.

Have no fear, Minot fans.

When these two teams meet again – and they will – the Magicians will be ready, and Century knows it.

“We’re not going to let this one sit to long,” Minot coach Dean Winczewski said. “We’ll get back up and be ready for practice tomorrow.”

Said Mattern, moments after his team’s 14th win of the year: “Give our guys credit. We fought hard and beat a very good basketball team tonight.”

This is the opinion of Joe Mellenbruch, sports editor of The Minot Daily News. Joe covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @Mellenbruch_MDN.