Hansen’s hot hand helps lift Blackjacks into 3A championship

MARSHALL – Held without a field goal through the first six-and-a-half minutes of play, the Dawson-Boyd Blackjacks badly needed a spark on offense after falling behind MACCRAY 8-1 Saturday in the Section 3A-North championship game at Southwest Minnesota State University.

They got a big one, and from a most unlikely source.

Freshman guard Jess Hansen came off the bench and connected on a 3-pointer from the right corner. Then he hit another 3. And another. And another.

Hansen knocked down four 3-pointers in a span of four minutes to help Dawson-Boyd get into its rhthym offensively and turn a seven-point deficit into a 17-8 lead. The Blackjacks held MACCRAY without a field goal for the final 12 minutes of the first half and rolled to a 61-37 victory to claim the 3A-North title for the second straight year.

Hansen finished 5-for-5 from the 3-point line and 6-for-6 from the field on his way to a career-high 19 points in a game the Blackjacks had to have. He said there were some nerves when he checked into the game, but he certainly didn’t show them.

“I came in and I knew we needed something and I was just happy I could help us out,” Hansen said. “We started out pretty slow, but I’m just glad we started hitting and through the game we just kept hitting shots. And our defense was great. We only allowed just 10 points in the first half and it was just a great game.”

The eighth-ranked Blackjacks (22-5 overall) advance to face third-ranked Southwest Minnesota Christian in a rematch of last year’s Section 3A championship game. The two teams will take the court at 5 p.m. Thursday at the R/A Facility.

Dawson-Boyd is a team that gets the vast majority of its points from three players – guards Joey Lee and Nathaniel Huot and forward Michael Lee – who all average over 17 points per game. But none of them could get a basket to fall early on Saturday against the Wolverines (21-6). Hansen’s huge contribution was not only unexpected, but it was clearly what gave the team the jolt that fueled them through the rest of the game.

“We talk about being a champion at your role and that was Jess,” Dawson-Boyd head coach Cory Larson said. “We always try to give him opportunities to come in and knock down a 3 and he just hasn’t been able to find his rhythm for most of the season in a varsity game. He certainly did tonight at the right time for us.

“And it really was a key time. It was a situation where we weren’t in sync offensively and Jess steps in and knocks down some 3s to get us going. Everything flowed pretty well from there.”

After Hansen’s first 3 from the corner, Joey Lee got a steal and was fouled while making a layup on the fast break. Following his three-point play, Hansen hit a 3 from the top of the key. A minute later Hansen drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing, and on the next trip down he pulled up for a 3 in transition from the left wing and nailed it, sending the Dawson-Boyd crowd standing behind him into a frenzy.

With their offense rolling, Dawson-Boyd played lock-down defense the rest of the half and MACCRAY couldn’t get anything to drop from the field as the Blackjacks jumped out to 30-10 lead at the break.

The Wolverines, who shot just 28 percent from the field for the game, were never able to get any closer than 18 points in the second half as they saw their season come to an end.

Joey Lee said it was a big boost to have a player outside of the team’s top three scorers step up and have a great performance, especially in such a crucial game.

“It’s huge,” he said. “We have three good players there but it takes the whole team to win, three guys aren’t going to get it done. Those other guys have done a great job this year playing defense and rebounding and doing everything we’ve asked of them. They’ve improved a lot but now they’re stepping into more of a scoring role, which we definitely need them to do.

“(Hansen) did a great job of it and hopefully he can do it again and a couple of other people can step up because we’re going to need it next week.”

Lee also had a strong game coming off of what he felt was rough outing in the Blackjacks’ sub-section semifinals win against Minneota. He bounced back by scoring 20 points to go with four steals and four assists.

“He’s a very resilient kid,” Larson said of Lee. “He’s had situations I always relate to football where he hasn’t had a very good first half and then he’ll come back and have a phenomenal second half. The other night he was disappointed because he expects a lot out of himself. He came back today and stepped up.”

Huot hit three 3-pointers and scored nine points, while Michael Lee added nine points and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.

MACCRAY senior Taylor Thissen was the only Wolverine to score more than seven points. He had 12 points and eight rebounds in his final high school game.

The Blackjacks now stand just one win from reaching the state tournament, but they know it will be their biggest challenge of the season. Dawson-Boyd lost to SWC 73-55 in last year’s 3A championship before the Eagles went on to finish as the runners-up at the state tournament. SWC also defeated Dawson-Boyd 72-51 on Dec. 8 at SMSU in what was the Blackjacks’ second game of the season.

“We played Southwest Christian at the beginning of the year and that was a tough loss for us, kind of a wake-up call,” Joey Lee said. “I think we’ve improved a lot since then and I’m sure they’ve improved too, but we remember what happened to us last year and remember what happened to us earlier in the year and we know it’s going to be a great game and we’re looking forward to it.”