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Second-half swagger

Magi basketball defeats Century, advances to West Region semifinals

Justin Martinez/MDN Minot High junior Easton Larson (40) finishes the fast break layup during the Magicians’ 70-66 win over Bismarck Century on Thursday in the West Region quarterfinals at the Bismarck Event Center.

BISMARCK — Thursday’s game couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start for Alex Schimke. But that wasn’t going to stop him.

Just five minutes into No. 5-seeded Minot High’s West Region first round match against No. 4-seeded Bismarck Century, the senior guard reached in to try and steal the ball away from an opposing player. Instead of poking the ball loose, Schimke made contact with his opponent’s forearm and instantly heard the sound of the referee’s whistle.

The call marked his second foul of the game, forcing him to jog over to the sideline in frustration and take a seat on the bench.

Schimke was forced to watch his team fight for nearly 10 minutes before returning to the court. Yet, Schimke and the Magicians overcame the early setback and ultimately emerged victorious with a 70-66 win over the Patriots in a game where Minot needed and got production from its entire rotation.

“We absolutely battled for 36 minutes all the way down to the final buzzer,” MHS head coach Dean Winczewski said. “It wasn’t perfect, but I’m so proud of how our kids competed. All of them competed, really.”

The Patriots took advantage of Schimke’s absence during the first half and built a 23-15 lead with seven minutes left on the clock. Fortunately for the Magi, Easton Larson was there to stop the bleeding.

The 6-foot-6 center sparked the comeback by breaking free on a pick-and-roll play and got to the rim for the easy layup. A few plays later, Larson enforced his will in the paint once more by snagging an offensive rebound and nailing the two-foot jumper to trim Century’s lead to 26-21 with four minutes remaining.

Schimke returned one minute later and got right back to work, drilling a contested corner three to make it a 26-24 affair. At halftime, the Magi only trailed 26-25 thanks in part to Larson’s six points and one block.

“Easton (Larson) was really good tonight,” Winczewski said. “He’s been so consistent for us as of late just scoring down low and rebounding really well.”

With the first-half foul trouble now in the rearview mirror, Schimke came out firing in the second half.

The senior gave the Magi their first lead since the score was 9-6 by slicing his way into the paint and finishing with a smooth finger roll to put his team on top, 30-28. Two plays later, Schimke delivered his third long-range bomb to force Century into a timeout and pushed Minot’s lead to 33-30 with 13 minutes remaining.

“Coach (Winczewski) told me to just come out in the second half with the same mindset,” Schimke said. “He said, ‘You can’t play passive. You have to come out aggressive,’ so I did and it just worked out for me.”

With momentum now on his side, Schimke began to show off a bit.

The senior nearly brought both the house and his defender down at the eight-minute mark with a swift stepback triple to give Minot a 48-45 edge. Schimke gave fans an encore on his team’s very next possession, as he delivered another ankle-breaking crossover and finished by splashing a three-pointer from the corner.

The pair of highlight-reel triples gave Minot a 51-47 lead — its largest of the game — with 7:30 remaining and forced the Patriots into another timeout.

“I worked on that stepback a lot this fall,” Schimke said. “I seem to be pretty good at it, so I tried to use it in the game a couple of times.”

Minot stayed in front for the next four minutes until Century’s Cade Feeney took over. The junior guard gave the Patriots a 56-55 lead with an and-one layup and struck again two possessions later by knocking down an open triple.

Now trailing 62-60 with 1:30 left, Feeney backed his defender down and banked in a close-range jumper to tie the score in what was a quick eight-point burst.

“(Feeney) is a handful,” Winczewski said. “But I think we just had one more play in us, so we’re very fortunate.”

That one last play came courtesy of none other than Schimke. Trailing 64-62 with a minute remaining, the senior created some space at the top of the arc and drained his fifth three-pointer of the afternoon to give Minot a 65-64 edge.

Sophomore Deonte’ Martinez put the finishing touches on the game with 9.4 seconds left, as he calmly sank a pair of free throws to secure the Magi’s 70-66 win.

Schimke finished with a game-high 20 points on 5-for-8 shooting from deep. Larson recorded a double double with 16 points and 10 boards. Also posting a double double was Martinez with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

“It’s incredible,” Schimke said. “Everybody can step up, and everyone thinks that whoever shoots the basketball is going to score.”

With the win, Minot advances to the semifinals to take on No. 1-seeded Jamestown today at 5:30 p.m. After losing both regular-season contests, it’ll take another group effort if the Magi want to pull off the upset.

“We just have to play us,” Schimke said. “We can’t worry about who we play or how they play. We just have to come out with the same aggressiveness, and hopefully we can get it done.”

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

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