(1) Four Winds/Minnewaukan defends, dunks way past Hillsboro/Central Valley

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

FORT TOTTEN – The (1) Four Winds/Minnewaukan Indians had a couple of expectations to live up to as they took to the court Friday evening.

Sophomore forward/guard Dalen Leftbear (center, white) cheers against Hillsboro/Central Valley on Jan. 14.

The first expectation solely revolved around simple context. After taking home the Ramsey Invitational title on Jan. 10, the Indians were looking to keep momentum swinging in their direction against the Hillsboro/Central Valley Burros on Jan. 14.

The second expectation was as simple as it was noticeable. The Indians, after all, were the top-ranked Class B basketball team, per the North Dakota Associated Press Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association (NDAPSSA).

With eyeballs pointing in their direction from all angles, the Indians had to defend their home court to ensure the Burros didn’t play spoiler.

A strong and steady first half helped quell any concern as the Indians went on to roll the Burros, 81-50, on Jan. 14.

The Indians (7-0) remain undefeated on the season. The team’s 7-0 start is their first since the 2019-20 season (the Indians started 14-0). The Indians have now scored 70 points or more through their first seven games to open the season for the first time since the 2016-17 campaign.

Defense, however, was what Four Winds/Minnewaukan wished to show through the opening portion of the game. The Indians did not solely emphasize their defensive prowess in the first quarter, though. Instead, the Indians made it a priority as they held a station-to-station Burro offense scoreless through the first five+ minutes of action.

Adjusting to Hillsboro/Central Valley’s intricate pace proved to be Four Winds/Minnewaukan’s calling card.

“They [Hillsboro/Central Valley] are probably one of the most physical teams in the state,” Four Winds/Minnewaukan head coach Rick Smith said after the game. “They are going to be more methodical on their offensive end and try to be us inside as much as they can. They did a pretty good job of it after we got the big lead, which helps us because it slows down their game and slows down their shot opportunities.”

A 41-23 Four Winds/Minnewaukan halftime lead did not spell the end for the Burros. A 20-point third quarter helped keep the Burros within striking distance.

However, the likes of Jayden Yankton and Deng Deng proved to be a lethal combination outside the perimeter and inside the paint.

Sophomore forward Deng Deng (center, white) drives to the basket against Hillsboro/Central Valley on Jan. 14.

Exerting enough pressure on the defensive side, coupled with more energy exertion on Hillsboro/Central Valley’s end, inevitably wore the Burros down to a nub. This proved to play into the Indians’ favor as they pounced harder on both ends of the floor.

“I thought maybe getting the big 17-point lead at the start of the game…anybody that tries to come back from that deficit is going to exert a lot of energy,” Smith said. “At the end of the third and into the fourth, you could see them [Hillsboro/Central Valley] starting to tire a little bit, which I thought was a big part of them getting behind early, which also helped us because our trapping and our pressure defense at the end of the third and into the fourth really set the tempo.”

Of course, the defensive performance did not take away from the offensive firepower the Indians decided to illustrate. A pair of two Burro turnovers in the third quarter, followed by two glass-crashing dunks via Yankton and Deng, brought the crowd to its feet.

It was all about adjusting, in Smith’s mind. These adjustments even pertained to the offensive end as the Burros showed defensive sets the Indians were not familiar with.

Nevertheless, the Indians found a way to find the lanes and score 80+ points in their fourth-straight game.

“It is the first time we really saw a zone,” Smith said. “It slowed us down a little bit, too. We prepared for it. We thought it was coming. I thought there were times when we didn’t make them work hard enough on the defensive end where we made the one-pass shot, which doesn’t make them exert much energy on the defensive end. I thought once we got the ball into the middle with Deng and made some extra passes, I thought we got easier baskets.”

The Indians will travel to New Rockford to take on the New Rockford-Sheyenne Rockets on Jan. 17.