By Matt Dahlseid
MARSHALL - Area high school boys' basketball fans got an early-season treat Saturday at Southwest Minnesota State's R/A Facility when last year's Section 3A championship game participants, Southwest Minnesota Christian and Dawson-Boyd, squared off in what was the second game of the 2012-13 season for both teams.
Photo by Matt Dahlseid
Dawson-Boyd’s Michael Lee (21) rises for a shot over a defender during the Blackjacks season opener Saturday at the R/A Facility in Marshall.
The SWC Eagles lacked four key contributors from last year's squad, including 6-foot-9 All-State forward Zach Huisken, but they showed they're still a force to be reckoned with by thumping the Blackjacks 72-51. It was a nearly identical result to last year's 73-55 win the Eagles secured over Dawson-Boyd on March 15 to advance to the Class A state tournament, where they finished as the runners-up.
Six-foot-5 junior center Leighton Sampson, who didn't score a point in last year's section title game, dominated play down low for SWC. He finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds, while senior guards Klint Knutson and Dominic Nibbelink had 15 and 14 points, respectively.
Following the game, the coaches on both teams pointed out that although it was the second contest for each team, the Eagles players had had much longer to prepare. SWC's fall sports season ended Oct. 13 when the Eagles played their final soccer game (the school doesn't have a football program). Dawson-Boyd's top players, on the other hand, played 13 football games and their season wasn't over until Nov. 17 when they lost in the Class A state semifinals.
Clayton Huisken 1 0-0 3, Nate Pfeifle 3 1-3 7, Klint Knutson 5 3-3 15, Dominic Nibbelink 4 5-5 14, Luke Nibbelink 1 0-0 2, Gabe Vander Veen 1 1-2 3, Eric Talsma 2 2-2 6, Leighton Sampson 11 0-1 22. Totals 28 12-16 72. 3-pointers 4 (Knutson 2) Rebounds 35 (Sampson 10, D. Nibbelink 8) Assists 13 (Talsma 4, Knutson 3) Steals 5 (Knutson 2) Turnovers 12 Total Fouls 12.
Nathaniel Huot 4 1-2 10, Jesse Hansen 1 0-0 2, Noah Stelter 1 0-0 3, Joey Lee 6 2-2 18, Kyler Collins 2 0-0 4, Michael Lee 5 0-0 11, Cody Aafedt 1 0-0 2, Easton Popma 0 1-2 1. Totals 20 4-6 51. 3-pointers 7 (J. Lee 4) Rebounds 22 (M. Lee 1, J. Lee 6) Assists 10 (J. Lee 6) Steals 4 (J. Lee 2) Blocks 1 Turnovers 12 Total Fouls 16.
Halftime Score: SWC 27, Dawson-Boyd 24.
"Dawson's a very quality team. You have to understand, Dawson just got done playing football a few weeks ago," SWC head coach Jamie Pap said. "Our soccer season has been done for an eternity, so we've had a lot more time for guys to be in the open gym and stuff. Dawson will get better, and hopefully we'll get better, too."
SWC certainly looked better prepared at the start of Saturday's game. The Eagles jumped out to a 15-0 lead and held Dawson-Boyd scoreless over the first six minutes of play. The Blackjacks turned the ball over on their first three possessions, missed a couple of close shots around the basket and forced several difficult shots against SWC's aggressive defense.
"Did not see that coming at all," Pap said of his team's start. "Our defense really was good the first couple of minutes of the game to get them off to that start. They got frustrated, they missed a couple of shots and we made them."
Dawson-Boyd 6-4 sophomore Michael Lee helped the Blackjacks chip away at the lead, scoring nine of his 11 points in the first half as his team closed to within three at 27-24 by halftime. He also finished with a game-high 11 rebounds.
The Blackjacks came out hot to start the second half, with senior guard Nathaniel Huot hitting a 3-pointer (which gave him his 1,000th career point) and junior guard Joey Lee hitting three 3s in the first four minutes to put Dawson-Boyd up 40-38. But an eventual 14-0 SWC run fueled by Knuston and Sampson gave the Eagles control of the game and they coasted the rest of the way.
Dawson-Boyd head coach Cory Larson said it's no secret Huot, Joey Lee and Michael Lee will be the three main options for the team all season, and added that they have a ways to go before they get into basketball shape after each of them played key roles in the football team's run.
Each of those three players forced shots against SWC's tough defense. Michael Lee was 5-for-17 shooting, while Huot was 4-for-19 with 10 points. Joey Lee was the most efficient, hitting 6 of 12 shots for 18 points. Larson said those players need to learn to gain confidence in their teammates if they want to create more flow offensively.
"Those three experienced kids have to trust the younger kids and understand that there are going to be two or three sets of eyes always on them," he said. "They're going to see a lot of double teams and will have to learn to accept that and trust their teammates and create a great shot for one of those younger kids."
For a team that's hoping to break through and get to state this season, losing by 21 points to a Section 3A foe was a humbling experience for the Blackjacks. But Larson said it's better it happened now than in a possible section title rematch.
"This is why we scheduled this game, to avoid this happening in March, because somewhere along the line you're going to face a team that's going to be very aggressive defensively and you have to be able to handle it," he said. "I don't think we did a very good job last year in the section championship of handling the pressure. Today, for parts of the game, they were able to get us out of a rhythm offensively because of their defense. Their defense dictated our offense, and you want to turn that around where our offense dictates their defense.
"You hope to get better from a loss like this and certainly hope that at some point you're able to get a rematch with them."