Blackjacks back in 3A-North final with win over Minneota

MARSHALL – Southwest Minnesota State commit Nathaniel Huot already seems to be quite comfortable on his future home court. The Dawson-Boyd senior guard drilled six 3-pointers Thursday on his way to a game-high 28 points as the top-seeded Blackjacks bounced No. 5 seed Minneota out of the Section 3A-North tournament with a 76-64 victory at the R/A Facility at SMSU.

Dawson-Boyd’s 6-foot-4 sophomore forward Michael Lee also had his way on offense, scoring 24 points to help lift the Blackjacks (21-5 overall) into Saturday’s sub-section championship game. This will be the third straight season Dawson-Boyd will face MACCRAY for the 3A-North title, with the Blackjacks and Wolverines splitting the previous two matchups. The two teams will take the court at the R/A Facility at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

Having lost to Dawson-Boyd 75-44 on Jan. 29, Minneota head coach Dave Busselman had his team come out in a zone defense to try to slow down the Blackjacks’ potent offense early in Thursday’s contest. The plan worked for a while, as Dawson-Boyd had just an 8-7 lead about six minutes into the game.

But the Blackjacks worked over the Vikings (15-9) on the offensive glass and went on an 8-0 run capped by a 3-pointer by Huot to take a 24-13 lead with seven minutes, 48 seconds left in the half. It was one of four 3s Huot hit in the first half (he also hit one at the buzzer) on his way to 16 points in the opening 18 minutes. Lee also scored 16 points in the half as Dawson-Boyd grabbed a 44-33 edge at the break.

“We were a little stagnant right away when they were in that zone, we didn’t move much and waited for things to happen,” Huot said, “but when we started attacking the gaps and swinging the ball well we started clicking a lot better offensively.”

Lee took advantage of Minneota 6-4 center Grant Hennen being in foul trouble in the first half, first finding holes in the Vikings’ zone and then scoring on smaller defenders when Minneota went to a man-to-man defense. He showed his versatile offensive skill set throughout the night.

“He knocked down a 3, got some baskets inside, knocked down one or two mid-range jumpers, scored off the dribble, scored off some post moves,” Dawson-Boyd head coach Cory Larson said. “I think he scored about every possible way that you could in that ballgame.”

Minneota senior forward David Noyes, who missed much of the season with a shoulder injury from football, had a solid first half to prevent Dawson-Boyd from running away with the game. He scored 11 of his 15 points in the first half, mostly by getting to the basket and the foul line. Nine of his points came in the final 2:14 of the opening half.

Minneota’s Austin Buysse and Aaric Christenson each hit a 3-pointer in the first three minutes of the second half to cut the lead to single digits. But Huot drilled a 3 from the left wing, then got a steal that led to a Joey Lee layup, and then connected on a 3 from the right corner coming off a screen set by Michael Lee all within a span of just over a minute as Dawson-Boyd’s lead ballooned to 58-41. The Blackjacks didn’t let Minneota get closer than 12 the rest of the way.

Joey Lee had 11 points, seven assists, six rebounds and three steals for the Blackjacks, who committed just five turnovers and were patient on offense throughout the game and it resulted in good looks for the vast majority of their possessions.

“We need to force the defense to work on that end rather than having those one-, two- or three-pass possessions,” Larson said. “We want to focus on those eight- or nine- or 10-pass possessions and get them out of position and open up some driving lanes. Then instead of taking 20-footers you’re getting two-footers.”

Minneota got 15 points and five rebounds from Buysse, while Christenson finished with 13 points. Sophomore guard Daniel Harrison scored 10 points to go with seven rebounds.

The Vikings had lost five of seven games to close the regular season after losing sophomore point guard and leading scorer Dylan Tolk to a knee injury, but turned things around last Saturday to defeat Ortonville in the sub-section quarterfinals. Busselman said he was proud of how his squad responded to the adversity.

“We struggled right away and we played some good teams that made us struggle even a little bit more, but you take the punches when they come and how you bounce back is how you show your character,” he said. “I thought we showed some character tonight. Dawson-Boyd came out and killed us the first two minutes we played them the last time so I think we showed them we’ve got a little bit of character tonight.”