By Brad Blume
Sports Information Director
South Dakota School of Mines
RAPID CITY --- The South Dakota School of Mines men’s basketball team has certainly taken their lumps over the last month. Not only have they been on the road for the entire month of December, but the Hardrockers have been playing some of the region’s top talent --- at any level.
The ‘Rockers opened their road trip with a pair of losses in Colorado against NCAA Division II Colorado Mines and NAIA Div. II Johnson and Wales. That was followed by a win over Black Hills State in early December to record their first Dakota Athletic Conference victory, but then they faced some very tough opponents, such as Rocky Mountain College (NAIA Div. II), the University of South Dakota, a soon to be NCAA Div. I program, and two high powered GPAC teams at the Perkins Classic, NAIA nationally ranked Northwestern College (Iowa) and Morningside College (Iowa).
“That’s why we did the schedule that we did,” said Hardrocker head coach Jason Henry. “We knew we were going to have to win on the road so we played a lot of games on the road.”
The Hardrockers return home with a 6-9 record and even though they came up short in a few of those outings, they still seemed prepared to close out the remainder of their schedule –- which consists of only DAC games. After a long hiatus from home, the ‘Rockers appear to be battle harden and ready for the rest of the season.
“We’ve learned some lessons, we just learned them the hard way,” Henry added.
South Dakota Mines has solidified a lot of areas over the last month, especially defending their opponents’ attempting to penetrate. The Hardrockers have also developed their bench as both Brandon Fredrickson and Blake Tideman (both seniors) are averaging over 10 points in the previous two games.
“We have some scoring off the bench we just have to solidify our turnovers,” Henry said.
SDM has also utilized senior Casey Schmitz’s talents more. With junior post Andrew Brown back to 100 percent, Schmitz has been seen on the outside a little more as an added perimeter weapon. Senior forward Matt Lyndoe has come on as of late also. He was named DAC Player of the Week and just breached the 1,000-point mark last weekend in Spearfish.
Now that the Hardrockers finally have a game in the King Center (where they are 4-0), they can turn their focus on DAC opponents Dickinson State and Minot State.
The Blue Hawks are the first test for Mines. Dickinson enters the weekend with a 3-11 overall record. The Rockers appear to be the favorite, but Henry isn’t taking DSU lightly.
“They are a scary team and as scary as anybody in the conference,” Henry said. “They have the athletes to be as athletic and as talented as anybody in the DAC.”
The Blue Hawks seem to rally around the play of senior Donny English. The 6-foot-3-inch forward from Santa Barbara, Calif., leads the Hawks in points per game (13.36), rebounds per game (5.07), assists per game (5.26) and steals per game (1.64).
“He does everything for them. He is an all around good player,” Henry said. “He will play the point, the No. 2 (position) and the No. 3 (position). A lot of their stuff is run for him. He works very hard --- especially on the offensive end. It could cause some matchup problems for us.” But the Blue Hawks also has some other weapons as well. Senior guard Roger Russaw and junior Ervin Belton are also averaging over 10 points a game and seem to compliment each other very well.
“They have very good guards and that has been one of our concerns all year,” Henry said. “When a team has good guards we tend not to play very well against them.”
Dickinson is an up tempo team that likes to get points in transition. They also like to press the ball, but the Hardrocker have been through quite a bit of that lately and should be able to handle what the Hawks throw at them.
Saturday’s matchup pits the Hardrockers against the Minot State Beavers, a team with an 8-6 record and another roster full of talent.
Most recently the Beavers got junior guard Joe Gatherings back. He has been with the team for their last three games and in his first outing, put up 19 points. Add in guard Patrick Beck (averaging 13.30 points), forward Cleodis Hilliard (11.08 points) and guard Jordan Cooper (10.63) and the Beavers look to attack from all sides.
“They are just overall a very good team,” Henry said. “Overall they have a little bit more depth (than they did last year). They have a lot of different kids. They lost five guys from a year ago.”
A majority of the Minot roster has been brought in from junior colleges. It will be curious to see if the first part of the season was enough for the Beavers to gel together.
“They are as solid as anybody,” Henry added.
Minot is similar to what the Hardrockers attempt. They like to mix things up and throw different wrinkles at opponents throughout the game.
“Their guards pressure pretty well at times but they are more of a team that runs 30 seconds off the shot clock and then the next couple of trips (down court) they will try to get a couple transition buckets,” Henry said.
So with the longest road trip of the season over, the Hardrockers will look to this weekend’s contest as somewhat of a priority, considering what the next two weeks have in store --- back on the road.
“We’re at home and we have two games (this weekend). I wouldn’t say they are must wins, but they are definitely winnable games. We haven’t lost at home yet so we want to make sure we defend our home turf and come out and play well,” Henry said. “They aren’t must win games but they are pretty important. It would be nice to be 3-0 going on the road for four games.”
The men will tip-off Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
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