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With just a month left in the Dakota Athletic Conference men’s basketball season, the South Dakota School of Mines Hardrockers find themselves in a favorable position to finish in the top half of the league with the league title still up for grabs
By Brad Blume
Sports Information Director
South Dakota School of Mines
RAPID CITY --- With just a month left in the Dakota Athletic Conference men’s basketball season, the South Dakota School of Mines Hardrockers find themselves in a favorable position to finish in the top half of the league with the leuage title still up for grabs.
After splitting a pair of DAC games last week at home, the Hardrockers welcome the conference’s top team in the Mayville State Comets and the bottom squad in the Dakota State Trojans this weekend.
The Comets are 7-2 in conference play (16-7 on the season) and hold sole possession of first place. The Trojans on the other hand have an overall record of 2-20, winning just one conference bout thus far. The Hardrockers are 5-4 in the DAC and tied for third place with Minot State and Jamestown. Two wins this weekend would almost certainly put Mines one step closer to getting back to the top.
“We still have a chance --- depending on how Mayville does --- to finish in first place. Our goal is to finish in the top half (of the conference), but first place is still up for grabs this weekend with Mayville coming to the Hills,” said Hardrocker head coach Jason Henry. “(The Comets) lose two and it’s a different deal – but then again we could lose two. Bottom line is we could still finish seventh --- and that’s how it is for everybody in the league. It’s pretty clustered.”
The ‘Rockers will take on Dakota State Friday evening at Goodell Gymnasium and with just two wins on the season, the Trojans are still a dangerous opponent whose schedule is the toughest in the league according to Henry. DSU has played seven ranked NAIA teams this year as well as seven games against NCAA Division II or higher teams.
“They can beat anybody at anytime --- just like anybody else in our league,” Henry said of DSU. “They just have to figure out how to win, hopefully it doesn’t happen this weekend.”
The Trojans do have a pretty powerful weapon, rostering the conference’s top scorer.
“They have one of the best big players in the conference, if not the country,” Henry said referring to 6-foot-8-inch junior Joe Backus.
The Wentworth, S.D. native leads the conference with 424 total points, averaging almost 20 a game. He is also leading the conference in rebounds, grabbing a total of 169 (average of 7.68). He has the most offensive boards at 55 and the most defensive with 114.
“(Backus) is really good but he gets himself in foul trouble every once in awhile and (DSU) struggle for those periods,” Henry said. “But when he’s in there (DSU) has played with absolutely everybody this year and lost a ton of close games.���
Playing at the post position, the Trojans have Backus involved on every offensive possession.
“Everything is for him and through him. He plays his tail off and is very physical,” the coach added.
And for the Hardrockers to have success, they will attempt to contain the DSU standout.
“One of the major things is to limit his touches. He rebounds very well too. He is almost averaging a double double. He gets a handful of his points just from put-backs and that’s more possessions for them,” Henry said. “We have guys to do it. Our big kids have taken care of business against basically everybody we’ve played. We hope for that trend to continue.”
If the ‘Rockers can earn a victory in Friday’s contest, they can use that momentum to take down a very potent Mayville State squad Saturday.
In the last matchup between the two squads, the Comets blazed out to a second half lead and closed out Mines, 81-68.
“We didn’t play well in that game. Obviously a lot of that was the fact that Mayville is a pretty good team,” Henry said. “A couple of their kids took over, but we allowed them to do that. They came out and played well in the second half and we didn’t respond to it.”
The Comets have a fairly balanced lineup having talent both inside and out, which has reflected in the league rankings, putting Mayville in the top slot for offense. The Comets are averaging 86.8 points a game and beating opponents by a margin of just over 10 points.
Spearheading the scoring surge is senior Monty Rodgers. The 6-5 forward is averaging 18.64 points a game and was the Defensive Player of the Year for the 2005-06 season in the DAC as well as the Player of the Year runner-up.
“He’s an intimidating factor in there,” Henry said. “He is a big, strong and really an athletic kid. He does a lot of good things for the team.”
Add in perimeter threat Andy Parochka, who is leading the league in three-pointers made (56) as well as scoring 10.14 each game, and the Comets have a deadly 1-2 combination.
“You can’t double off him, you can’t leave him – he’s as good a shooter in our league as anybody,” Henry said of Parochka.
The Comets also have a few players back from injury that are coming on as of late, such as Ronald Howard (5-9 senior), who, in the last nine games, has averaged 16.11 points. He is also a phenomenal defensive player, so the Hardrockers will have to bring their ‘A’ game to contend.
“We will look to push the ball --- but we really have to just take care of the ball. We don’t want them to determine what we are doing as far as pressure and all,” Henry said. “We have done a better job of that since we last played (Mayville).”
After this weekend, the Hardrockers will take one last road trip to North Dakota to play Dickinson State and Minot State followed by one final matchup at home with Black Hills State --- all teams that SDM has defeated earlier this year. So if things go well Friday and Saturday, the Hardrockers’ goal of winning a conference title may very well be in reach.
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