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Prep boys basketball: Jackson County Central, Murray County Central one win away

AARON HAGEN/DAILY GLOBE Jackson County Central's Jacob Christopher puts up a shot during the Huskies' Section 3AA South tournament game against Redwood Valley. JCC plays Montevideo for the Section 3AA title at 5 p.m. Thursday.1 / 4
FILE PHOTO Murray County Central's Grant Rohrer (21) gets past Sibley East for a basket during the Rebels' 75-68 win on the first day of the Daily Globe-Trojan Holiday Classic. The Rebels take on Central Minnesota Christian at 8 p.m. Thursday in Marshall with a trip to state on the line.2 / 4
AARON HAGEN/DAILY GLOBE Jackson County Central's Colton Timmer (24) goes hard to the basket during the Huskies' Section 3AA south win over Redwood Valley. JCC will play for a trip to state at 5 p.m. Thursday in Marshall.3 / 4
FILE PHOTO Murray County Central's Jack Erickson drives through the Pipestone Area defense during a game in Slayton earlier this season.4 / 4

Offense meets defense when the Jackson County Central Huskies go against the Montevideo Thunder Hawks for the Section 3AA boys basketball championship.

A tournament-tested Central Minnesota Christian Bluejays team will battle a hungry Murray County Central Rebels outfit in Section 3A.

JCC and Montevideo compete at 5 p.m. Thursday at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall. CMC and MCC tangle at 8 p.m., same night, same place. The winners will represent their sections in the state tournament.

Here’s a brief summary of what to look for on Thursday:

Montevideo vs. Jackson County Central

The Huskies can score a bunch. The Thunder Hawks can defend a bunch.

Montevideo allows opponents an average of only about 50 points a game, employing mostly man-to-man defense. The Hawks are not a pressing team, preferring to handcuff opponents in the half-court. It usually works.

In their last five games -- all wins -- Montevideo beat Dawson-Boyd 48-45, Yellow Medicine East 62-37, Yellow Medicine East again 64-36, New London-Spicer 56-45 and Minnewaska Area 65-40.

“When you have good athletes and they buy into something, generally good things happen,” said MHS head coach Dan Douglas on Tuesday.

The Thunder Hawks own a 68-53 Dec. 30 victory over Tracy-Milroy-Balaton, which Jackson County Central lost to during the regular season but defeated 66-62 in the Section 3AA South finals. The Huskies are an explosive offensive team as evidenced by their 96-69 win over a very good Redwood Valley team in the section tournament.

Douglas knows all about the Huskies’ fine 6-9 senior forward, Bodey Behrends, who scored 24 points with 10 rebounds in Saturday’s win over T-M-B. But that’s not all he’s concerned about.

“We’re impressed with their size. Then that 6-5 (Colton) Timmer is also a good player. He’s a tough matchup for us,” Douglas said. “It’s going to be defensively a challenge for us to hold them down.”

The Hawks’ top scorer is senior guard Troy Diggins, a four-year starter who has scored more than 1,300 points in his career and averages about 16 points per game this season. Junior guard Riley Emery is the player they like to put opposite the other team’s best non-post scorer.

JCC (22-5) lost a tough game to Fairmont in the Section 3AA South finals last year -- a game the Huskies led most of the way. Now senior-dominated and playing some of their best basketball of the season, they come at opponents in waves, and nearly everyone is a threat to rack up points. They are quick, aggressive, and focused.

Montevideo, however, backs down from no one. Douglas stresses that the Thunder Hawks (21-7) play in a tough West Central Conference and have learned to deal with a variety of defenses thrown at them.

“It sets us up nice for the tournament,” he said.

Central Minnesota Christian vs. Murray County Central

Central Christian placed third in the state Class A tournament last season. All five starters received significant minutes in the 2014-15 campaign.

Head coach Ted Taatjes said the main goal this year has not been to return to state, or even to improve on last year’s third-place finish. It is simply to improve.

“We’ve come into this year with a pretty big target on our backs,” he said.

That may be so, but the Bluejays have handled the pressure quite well up to this point. Their record is 25-3. They lost to the Southwest Christian Stars 69-60 on Dec. 11, to Minneapolis North 79-49 on Jan. 9 and to Tracy-Milroy-Balaton 54-37 in their final regular season game on Feb. 16. They won each of their previous three section tournament games by 17 points or more.

Murray County Central (26-3) has surprised no one this year by dominating the southwest portion of the state. The Rebels, who defeated Southwest Christian three times already this year, are led by one of the area’s most celebrated big men, 6-5 senior Grant Rohrer, but the talent doesn’t stop there.

“They are very good,” Taatjes said. “Grant Rohrer will probably be the best big player we’ve seen this year. And (junior guard Cole) Bassett, with his playmaking ability. … It seems like Bassett makes ‘em go, but Rohrer gets a lot of the defensive attention because he’s so polished.”

Central Minnesota Christian is a balanced team offensively that Taatjes calls “defense-minded” (they allow opponents only about 45 points per game). The Bluejays like to out-rebound opponents and limit them to no more than one shot. That may be difficult with Rohrer patrolling the boards.

Senior guard Taylor Slagter, a long, athletic player, leads the Jays in scoring. He can score in several ways. He can shoot the jumper and he can penetrate.

“They have that tournament experience,” MCC head coach Tim Bobeldyk said on Tuesday. “They’re pretty talented throughout their lineup. And they play very well together.”

The Rebels have demonstrated lately that they can win games even when not always connecting on all cylinders. They struggled in the first half in their second section game against Hills-Beaver Creek but dominated in the second half en route to a 62-46 victory. In their most recent game against Southwest Minnesota Christian ( a team they beat 81-63 and 68-50 in earlier meetings) they trailed for much of the contest and were extended into overtime before prevailing, 84-75.

The Rebels will need to be sharp to take down the Bluejays, and Bobeldyk knows it.

“We’ve got to play like we have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” he said.

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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