Conquering the mountain

Magi basketball topples the Braves, 80-71

Justin Martinez/MDN Minot High junior Derry Lentz (34) soars past a cluster of Turtle Mountain defenders during the Magicians’ 80-71 victory over the Braves on Tuesday at the Magic City Campus.

There are no givens in the West Region.

The Turtle Mountain Community High School Braves (4-5) proved that on Tuesday as they fought tooth and nail with the Minot High School boys basketball team (5-2) in hostile territory.

In the end, it was depth and some strong free throw shooting by the Magicians that proved to be the difference, and the home team claimed a 80-71 victory.

“You have to give (TMCHS) Belcourt credit,” MHS head coach Dean Winczewski said. “They fought and they gave themselves opportunities, but we just made enough plays down the stretch.”

Minot came out on fire in the first half. The Braves had no answer for junior guard Jaxon Gunville, who torched the defense for three early triples to help give his team a slim 28-24 edge with 3:30 left until halftime.

That’s when the Magi began to pull away. Minot closed the half on a 14-4 run that saw a fourth triple from Gunville, four points from junior Easton Larson and a buzzer-beating layup by senior Alex Schimke to take a 42-28 lead at the break.

“The ball was being swung from one side to the other (during the run),” Winczewski said. “And we were able to get to the rim, which was a really good thing to see.”

But that lead didn’t last long, as the Braves came out swinging in the second half. TMCHS went on a 14-0 run in the first four minutes to silence the rowdy home crowd and knot the score at 42-42.

It wasn’t until 5:15 remained that the Braves claimed their first lead of the game thanks to Grant Birkland, who went 1-for-2 on a trip to the charity stripe to give his team a 65-64 edge.

With the pressure mounting and time running out, the Magi made their final push. Gunville got the ball rolling with a pull-up jumper from mid range, junior Derry Lentz finished a fastbreak with a contested layup and Larson delivered the exclamation mark with a sweet turnaround shot in the paint.

The speedy 6-0 run gave Minot a 70-65 lead with just over three minutes left. The dagger came two possessions later when Schimke stripped ball away from a TMCHS player and raced down the court for an easy layup that pushed the Magi’s lead to 74-67.

Minot went 6-for-8 from the free throw line in the final minute to spoil the Braves’ comeback attempt and secure the 80-71 win.

Gunville finished with a game-high 26 points, while Larson and Schimke each recorded 17 points in a game where the Magi needed and got production from top to bottom.

Minot will look to build off Tuesday’s win as it shifts its focus to a home game against Williston on Friday at 7:30 p.m.

“It’s a process,” Winczewski said. “But tonight was a step forward. To come out and make plays down the stretch like we did is a good deal, and we have to learn from it. “

Justin Martinez covers Minot High School sports and Class B high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @JTheSportsDude.