Gearing up

Magi basketball prepares for West Region Tournament

Justin Martinez/MDN Minot High junior Derry Lentz (34) soars past a trio of Turtle Mountain players on Jan. 8 during the Magicians’ 80-71 home win.

Now they count.

The quarterfinals of the West Region boys basketball tournament is set to begin today in Bismarck, and with that comes a clean slate for all eight competing teams. Among that group is the Minot High School boys basketball team.

The No. 5-seeded Magicians (14-7) enter the tournament with their regular season in the rearview mirror and their eyes firmly locked onto their target destination: a trip to the state tournament.

“Really, the past games don’t matter,” MHS head coach Dean Winczewski said. “I hate to say that, but when it comes down to it (at the tournament), you really just have to go out there and do what you do better than your opponent does.”

That No. 5 seed attached to Minot’s name is a bit misleading, as the Magi enter the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the region.

Since losing back-to-back games to Jamestown and Turtle Mountain Community High School in early February, Minot has rebounded with a four-game winning streak. The Magi built their streak with their defense, allowing an averaging of just 54 points in the four victories.

“I think we’ve been as consistent with our level of play as we have all year, short of the game on the road against Belcourt,” Winczewski said. “The past three weeks we’ve been good about defending the ball, and we’ve been rebounding better as well.”

The biggest statement made during the dominant stretch came in the Magi’s season finale at home on Feb. 19. Minot handled its business against Bismarck Century and defeated the Patriots in front of a packed home crowd by a score of 71-63.

That same Century team will fittingly be the Magi’s first test of the WDA Tournament, as Minot is set to take on the No. 4-seeded Patriots at 4:45 p.m. today at the Bismarck Event Center. It’ll be a high-stakes rubber match for two teams that split their regular-season series.

“With Century, we’ve played two really good games,” Winczewski said. “We feel like we have a pretty good idea as to how we need to do things defensively and how we need to attack offensively. Now it’s just a matter of going out there and executing.”

The Magi are expected to turn to Jaxon Gunville for guidance on the offensive end. The 6-foot junior has given opposing defenses nightmares as of late, averaging 19.6 points per game in the month of February.

The highlight of Gunville’s scoring spree came at home on Feb. 5 against Bismarck Legacy, where he dropped a ludicrous 32 points and added six rebounds for good measure to lead the Magi to a 78-63 win.

But Gunville won’t be the only scorer on the Patriots’ radar today, as Alex Schimke will also be looking to do some damage. After being held to eight points against Century in an 83-77 (OT) road loss on Jan. 15, the senior bounced back on Feb. 19 and recorded 17 points to go along with five rebounds and three assists in the win over the Patriots.

With Gunville and Schimke’s scoring production seemingly a lock – as it has been all season – the Magi will look to increase their chances of a lower-seeded win against Century today by getting some of its other players going as well.

Among those players is junior Easton Larson, who hopes to repeat the same success he had against the Patriots in the season finale. The 6-foot-6 center scored 13 points, hauled in six boards, recorded three blocks and even added two steals to his well-rounded stat line.

It’s players such as Larson, sophomore Deonte’ Martinez and junior Derry Lentz that could be the difference come tournament time for the Magi.

“When we’re really effective offensively, it comes because we’re having a number of people scoring,” Winczewski said. “Easton has played really consistently this second half of the year… (Lentz) does so many things that don’t show up on the box score… and Deonte’ (Martinez) has been really good this past month.”

Defensively, Minot will be focusing on Century’s Trenton Mattern and Cade Feeney. The dynamic duo caused problems for the Magi in their two regular-season meetings as they averaged 25 and 19.5 points, respectively.

Should the Magi win today, they’ll advance to a semifinals match tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. against the winner of No. 1-seeded Jamestown and No. 8-seeded Dickinson. If the Magi fall to the Patriots, they’ll face the loser of said match tomorrow at 1 p.m. in a win-or-go-home scenario.

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

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