PREP BOYS' BASKETBALL: Eagles punch ticket to state

MARSHALL -- "I think we played pretty well," exclaimed a jubilant Southwest Christian High School varsity boys' basketball coach Jamie Pap in a classic understatement. "Our guys played hard and did what needed to done."...

SWC's Top
aaron hagen/daily globe SWC's Andrew Top cuts down the net after the Eagles claimed the Section 3A championship Thursday at SMSU in Marshall.

MARSHALL -- "I think we played pretty well," exclaimed a jubilant Southwest Christian High School varsity boys' basketball coach Jamie Pap in a classic understatement. "Our guys played hard and did what needed to done."

Leading from start to finish Thursday night at the jam-packed R/A Facility on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University, the Eagles dominated Dawson-Boyd in impressive fashion most of the game and claimed an exceptionally, well-balanced 73-55 victory over the Blackjacks in a highly-anticipated Section 3A championship clash.

Coming into the game with a sparkling 26-2 record, including an 18-game winning streak and a high-scoring 78-62 over defending section champion MACCRAY in the North Sub-Section title game March 10, D-B looked like the real deal and most fans were expecting a competitive battle.

But the Eagles, who won the South Sub-Section title earlier that same evening with an 81-66 triumph over perennial-rival Ellsworth, had other ideas as they prepared this week for Thursday's finals.

"Our coaches did their research and we were ready to play," summed up SWC senior forward Keeran Sampson, who pulled down a team-high 11 rebounds and scored 13 timely points. "I was feeling good tonight and was glad that I was able to make some of those shots when Zach (Huisken) passed it back out to me."


From Dominic Nibbelink's game-opening 3-pointer in the left corner to a strong baseline drive by Andrew Top with 5:06 left in the second half, the Eagles played at a fast pace -- with aggressive team defense and offensive execution.

SWC opened up first-half leads of 10-0 and 36-18 before taking a 43-28 advantage into intermission.

After the Blackjacks started the second half by playing the Eagles even up for several possessions, Pap's charges took command again -- with a dazzling 24-5 burst over a span of seven minutes and 22 seconds, changing a 45-33 lead into an awesome 31-point spread, 69-38, with 8:01 left.

"This was fun," declared the 6-9 Huisken, who scored 12 of his team-high 18 points in the second half, including a cat-like quick baseline spin move, which capped SWC's decisive third run of the contest. "It was another great team effort."

The Eagles had a total of 26 assists in the game and had five players score in double figures, as Nibbelink (12), Eric Talsma (11) and Top (10) joined the strong performances from Huisken and Sampson.

"We started off so well," praised Pap about the Eagles' opening three minutes of the contest. "That's a key for us, because if can get a lead -- then we can really dial in our defense, which the guys certainly did."

Nibbelink, who scored seven of SWC's first 12 points, had a stellar all-around game for the Eagles, passing for six assists, claiming five rebounds an d coming up with three steals to go along with his dozen points -- all of which came in the first half.

"We wanted Dom to attack the bucket and make things happen," declared Pap about Nibbelink's effort. "He sure did that and had a great game for us."


"One of our goals was to get up and down the court," explained Nibbelink. "We tried to put fullcourt pressure on as much as we could and just keep after them."

After controlling the opening tip, the Eagles made a couple of passes and -- with just 13 seconds off the clock -- Nibbelink drained a 3-pointer from the left corner.

"I was glad my teammate was able to find me for that first shot," Nibbelink said, while looking at Huisken, who passed for five assists and claimed 10 rebounds for the Eagles.

"Getting 26 assists in the game is just a good example of our unselfish team play and how well we share the ball," praised Pap. "Having five guys score in double figures is huge."

Talsma, a 6-3 junior, gave the Eagles several sparks coming in off the bench, as he scored seven of his points after intermission and also contributed a trio of steals.

One of Talsma's steals came near the end of SWC's game-winning surge, as he intercepted a Blackjacks' pass and fired the ball to Klint Knutson, who fed a return pass back to Talsma for a bucket. A few seconds later -- after a steal by Nibbelink --Talsma scored again on a hard drive to the hoop.

"Eric gives us a lot of energy and has fun playing," declared Pap. "We had a great team effort, all the way around."

Knutson, a 5-9 junior guard who had the challenging defensive assignment of guarding D-B's high-scoring guard Nathaniel Huot, finished with six assists for the Eagles, including an early feed to Huisken, which capped SWC's opening 10-0 burst at the 15:10 mark of the first half.


"We just followed our game plan all night long," summed up Knutson. "We stick together and trust each other."

What about guarding Huot, who scored 28 points against MACCRAY?

"I have great respect for Huot and it was hard work guarding him because he can shoot from far out and can drive to the hoop, too." Knutson said. "It was tiring, but Damon (Vander Maten), Eric and Dom had him some of time, too, so we all worked together and got the job done."

Huot finished with 19 points to lead the Blackjacks. But he only scored seven points in the first half, as he was hounded hard by the hustle and tenacity of Knutson. For the game, Huot was seven-of-18 from the field (38 percent), while making just two of 10 shots from 3-point range.

"Klint did a super job on Huot," praised Pap. "We needed that kind of intense effort."

The steady-playing Top, who scored a team-high 26 points in SWC's victory over Ellsworth Saturday, dished off four assists Thursday, while handling the ball well on the perimeter. He scored a key first-half basket off a high-low feed from Huisken, which lifted the Eagles to a 14-3 lead.

With the victory, the Eagles (26-1) will advance to next week's state tournament in Minneapolis. SWC will play in the Class A quarterfinals at Williams Arena on Thursday.

The Eagles' opponent will be determined Saturday morning -- after all the sectional championship games are completed. This is the first year that the Class A bracket will be seeded.


The first of Thursday's games will tipoff at 11 a.m, while the fourth game is scheduled for a 5 p.m. start.

"We don't know who we will play or what time we will play," summed up Pap, who helped the Eagles win the Section 3A championship 13 years ago -- ironically, a 78-53 win over Dawson-Boyd in the finals -- in 1999, the first of four straight state championships for Southwest Christian. "All we know is that we will be there and that's exciting."

Eagles answer D-B rally with 14-0 run to take 36-18 lead

After 3-pointers by Nibbelink and Sampson had put the Eagles ahead 6-0 in the game's first minute and 10 seconds, a strong drive by Nibbelink and an inside basket by Huisken made the score 10-0.

Another drive by Nibbelink and Top's basket down low offset a trio of points by the Blackjacks -- who first scored at the 14:40 mark on a rebound bucket by Evan Robertson -- Dawson-Boyd rallied with a 9-4 run, slicing the lead to 16-12 with 10:48 to play.

A basket in the lane by Sampson (assist Huisken) put the Eagles up six. A steal by Nibbelink led to a pair of free throws by Top and Knutson's assist to Sampson for a sweet bank shot gave the Eagles a 22-12 lead with 9:39 on the clock.

Huot and Jack Hansen (10 points) both hit 3-pointers for the Blackjacks and D-B was again within four, 22-18.

But the Eagles countered with an impressive 14-0 surge, starting with a top-of-the-key 3-pointer by Sampson. After Sampson blocked a shot and claimed a defensive rebound on the same sequence, the Eagles came up empty. But Talsma converted a steal into a basket with a great move and SWC had a nine-point lead, 27-18 at the 7:12 mark.


Huisken (assist Talsma) scored inside and Knutson followed with a nifty drive and it was 31-18 with 6:14 left in the half.

Talsma converted a three-point play -- after taking a handoff from Nibbelink -- and Nibbelink scored a layup after making a steal, capping the run and giving the Eagles a 36-18 lead.

The Blackjacks came back with 10 of the final 17 points of the first half, but the Eagles had a 15-point advantage at the break.

Huisken dominates inside early in second half as Eagles pull away

After a slow start to the second half, in which the Blackjacks scored five of the first seven points -- capping an overall 15-9 run and trimming the gap to 12 (45-33), the Eagles put together their most impressive run of the game and clinched the victory in commanding fashion.

A dandy play from Huisken to Nibbelink to Top had started SWC's second-half scoring and -- after a fastbreak basket by Knutson (assist Nibbelink) -- Huisken took command in the post and on the boards, scoring six points in a span of less than two minutes.

A baseline drive by Top increased the lead to 55-35 and a power move inside by Huisken and a 3-pointer by Vander Maten made it 60-38 with 10:23 to play.

An in-and-out from Huisken to Sampson (3-pointer) was followed by Talsma's four points and Huisken's quick move and the outcome was pretty much locked up as the Eagles were up 69-38 with eight minutes to play.


A beautiful bounce pass by Knutson to Huisken and Top's drive closed out the scoring for SWC, which had a 73-46 lead before the Blackjacks scored the game's final nine points.

SWC 43 30 -- 73

D-B 28 27 -- 55

SW Christian (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Knutson 0-2-0-4, Top 0-4-2-10, Nibbelink 2-3-0-12, Sampson 3-2-0-13, Vander Maten 1-1-0-5, Talsma 0-5-1-11, Huisken 0-9-0-18. Totals 6-26-3-73.

Dawson-Boyd (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Huot 2-5-3-19, Stelter 0-1-0-2, J. Lee 1-4-0-3-11, Wager 1-0-0-3, Robertson 0-2-2-6, M. Lee 0-1-0-2, Hanson 3-1-1-12. Totals 7-14-6-55.

SWC's Talsma
AARON hAGEN/dAILY gLOBE SWC's Eric Talsma (41) goes up for a shot with a D-B defender on him in the Section 3A championship Thursday at SMSU in Marshall.

What To Read Next
Get Local