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Lot of questions will be answered this weekend in the Dakota Athletic Conference as the South Dakota School of Mines men’s basketball team takes one final regular season road trip to North Dakota to square off with the Minot State Beavers and Dickinson State Blue Hawks
By Brad Blume
Sports Information Director
South Dakota School of Mines
RAPID CITY --- A lot of questions will be answered this weekend in the Dakota Athletic Conference as the South Dakota School of Mines men’s basketball team takes one final regular season road trip to North Dakota to square off with the Minot State Beavers and Dickinson State Blue Hawks.
The Hardrockers enter play this weekend with a 12-13 overall record and 7-4 mark in the conference. After two impressive wins last weekend, in which then routed Dakota State, 102-57, as well as earned a victory over the league’s top team in Mayville State, 78-72, the ‘Rockers find themselves in third place in the conference rankings.
“We have to win down the stretch here and be playing our best ball. It was sure nice to have four games at home and get some confidence going into the final stretch run here,” Hardrocker head coach Jason Henry said. “We got a lot of guys some playing time as well as a little bit of rest (against Dakota State) --- which is pretty important this time of year. Then to turn around and beat one of the top teams in the country --- it was a pretty big deal.”
Another bright spot in the Mayville State game was the Hardrockers’ ability to close a deficit in both the first and second half, staying competitive for the entire 40 minutes.
“We got down 10 (points) to a really good team and we battled back,” Henry said. “We not only did that once against Mayville, we did it twice. That was something that we hadn’t really done this year. Typically when we get down to good teams we would lose by five or 10 points.”
The Hardrockers got over the hump and now have confidence and poise to use this weekend.
First up, SDM is walking into an unfriendly playing environment at Minot, so win there would be well deserved. But a South Dakota Mines team has not done that in a quite some time. In fact, in the last six years, the ‘Rockers have a 1-6 record at Minot, winning a quarter-final playoff game during the 2001-02 season.
Looking at the Minot team, the Beavers seem well rounded with junior guard Joe Gathering scoring 13 points a game, senior guard Jordan Cooper dishing in 12 points a game and junior forward Cleodis Hilliard averaging 11 points a game.
The Beavers will also get back the services of junior forward Matt Witwer. He’s been out of commission for a little over a month. He just returned last weekend and put up 15 points. He is now average 8 points a contest and will be another threat that the Hardrockers will have to contend with.
“We know what their good players can do and we know who we can ‘help’ off of and who we can’t,” Henry said. “I don’t think there are a lot of secrets this time of year.”
The matchup with Dickinson will be an interesting one Saturday. The Blue Hawks are 8-16 on the season, but have a 5-6 record in the conference, putting them in a tie for fifth with Minot. Dickinson also has a little bit of momentum as of late.
“They just beat Valley (City) at Valley (City), which just does not happen very often --- by anybody,” Henry said. “Obviously they are playing a little bit better.”
And that game came at the end of the Hawks four-game road stretch.
Senior forward Donny English is Dickinson’s top player, averaging 13 points a game and is sixth in the DAC for scoring with 306 total markers. He is also fourth in the league in assists with 98. Teammate and fellow senior Roger Russaw (guard) can also shoot the ball scoring 12 points a game while junior forward Ervin Belton puts up 10 points each time out. The Blue Hawks are very accurate shooters and proved it by having the top field goal percentage in the DAC with a 49 percentage.
The Hardrockers know it’s going to be a battle this weekend and they know that both Minot and Dickinson are two different teams from the first time SDM saw them. But that is also true of the ‘Rockers.
“Going back to when we played Mayville (the first time on Jan. 12) to when we played them again (Feb. 3), there has been improvement team wise,” Henry said. “Confidence is a big part of it and understanding that we can beat anybody in the conference and going out and proving it is a big part of it.”
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