No. 1 Four Winds/Minnewaukan taking advantage of exposed flaws in narrow win over No. 5 Beulah
Similar to where the baskets are located on the court, the Indians play under each of them were completely opposite performances. On the offensive end, 6-foot 10-inch senior center Bronson Walter was clutch from under the basket as he would dribble a few times, back into his defender, and reach over the Miner for two points. Walter was a puzzle that Beulah could not figure out on the offensive end.
However, on defense, the Indians struggled to get the pulldowns they needed. Second and third chance opportunities would bounce in favor of the Miners, which started to become a problem later in the game. As the Indians held on to a 10 point lead in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter, Beulah pulldowns began to fly outside the arc...and were sinking.
Suddenly, with the clock about to tick over into the final 60 seconds, the Indians' lead was down to one possession. However, with Walter continuing to lockdown in the paint and the lead No. 1 Four Winds/Minnewaukan (1-0) had built over the entirety of the game, the Indians would escape a potential upset bid from No. 5 Beulah, opening up the season with a 64-60 win.
"I told the boys it was a good first win and it would be worse if we were sitting here and lost the game," Indians head coach Rick Smith said. "Now we get to see on film what exactly we get to work on. We were a little heavy-footed tonight, but we'll get back after it. There were a lot of positive things, but there were some negative things we need to clean up."
Late in the game, when Beulah began to make its run at the Indians' lead, the second-chance points not only cut into Four Winds' lead but was stunning the offense as they were struggling to get the run going. Smith said the Miners controlled the pace of the game off the rebounds as they were crashing the boards in the first half and draining shots from 3-point range in the second half.
However, the battle for the pace of the game swung in Four Winds' direction for the majority of the game based on Walter's performance. The center downed a team-high 22 points for the Indians, with 14 coming in the second half. When the Indians couldn't find an outlet, Walter was a steady hand that Four Winds could rely on.
"If they try to guard Bronson one-on-one, it's not going to work," Smith said. "They continued to do that and we continued to feed him. I thought once he got into a groove, he dominated, but once they start to guard him one on one, we got to feed him."
When one guard on Walter was not working, the Miners began to double up on him, now giving his teammates outside the paint and near him the opportunity to capitalize. While other players in junior guard Jayden Yankton (12 points) and senior guard/forward Caelen Lohnes (11 points) were also able to break into double figures, Smith said he saw a little hesitation from the other starters on the court to take better shots than Walter had at the time.
A lot of the Indians scoring was done inside the paint, as they sunk only three shots from deep compared to the Miners seven. Smith said if Walter is going to be fed consistently, the other guys need to pick up the slack on the outside.
"If we're just going to pass it into Bronson all night long and he's going to try and win the game for us, the other guys need to pick up the slack for us, and they will as soon as the confidence starts growing," Smith said. "We passed up some good shots and that's what I was telling them. You have to go with your strengths and they are good basketball players."
It was a tight win that the Indians have found a handful of things to perfect, but they aren't panicking because it's their first game in a very strange season, as Smith put it "they're happy, but not satisfied". The gym at Four Winds is usually electric on Friday nights, but was nearly empty for the home opener, taking away the fan environment the Indians are so used to. Some players were starting for the first time and others were trying to get used to playing on the court for the first time in months.
To mix in the "new" environment, Four Winds didn't dip their toes in the water but were thrown into the deep end, meaning that the schedule that Smith had built is working. The Indians' next three opponents are either ranked in the top 10 or have received votes to be in the top 10. On Dec. 21 they host No. 2 Enderlin, who defeated Hatton/Northwood in overtime on Monday and blew out Velva Friday. They follow their winter break with No. 6 Dickson Trinity on Dec. 29 and ring in 2021 at RV Hatton/Northwood.
So why does Smith keep his team playing other ranked competition instead of easing his them into the season? It's to maintain and instill the post-season mentality early so that it becomes accustomed to the Indians when the games become do or die in March.
"You have to be ready to play every single night," Smith said. "To throw teams at them like Beulah, Enderlin, Dickson Trinity and Hatton/Northwood means that if you're not ready to play, you're going to get beat. You have to have that mentality all year long because the postseason is that way. The season is not over tonight, win or lose, but if we lose in the region that's it. You have to prepare yourself for that type of environment."
The team's first challenge in Beulah showed that there are some gaps in their defensive game and the Miners made them aware that it's something they need to touch upon before Monday. Beulah challenged the Indians' quickness and the Eagles will challenge the Indians' height and strength on Monday. With Bronson being one of the few Four Winds' players that match up to the Eagles' height and strength, Smith said his team is going to lean in on their speed in order to challenge Enderlin.
As for the Indians senior core, who begins its final chance to achieve a dream they've had since they entered the Four Winds program, there was some frustration in Friday's finish, but they are ready to move on and learn from game one.
"That's what's nice about having good, smart seniors," Smith said. "They'll pick up on what they need to do. Each game we will get better and I have the utmost confidence in that with these guys."
Jack Williams covers Lake Region sports and general news for the Devils Lake Journal. Contact him via email at JGWilliams1@gannett.com, on Twitter @jackgwilliams, or phone at 701-662-2127.
Four Winds/Minnewaukan vs. Beulah stats
FWM - 15, 14, 17, 18 - 64
BEU - 6, 11, 19 23 - 60
Four Winds/Minnewaukan scorers:
Bronson Walter - 22
Jayden Yankton - 12
Caelen Lohnes - 11
Keldon Keja - 6
Jaesawn Shaw - 4
Jonah Jackson - 4
Jacolby Pearson - 3
Deng Deng - 2
Trey Brandt - 26
Nathan Batlest - 16
Carson Weigum - 7
Dawson Zaroff - 7
Tarpper Skalsky - 4