Mike Stetson, Sports Information Director
DICKINSON, N.D. – With the memory of a Blue Hawk comeback still fresh in the Warriors mind from a few weeks earlier, along with two even-more frequent near-misses, the Waldorf men’s basketball team made sure none of that happened again in their biggest game so far this season.
Opening postseason play on the road, the Warriors led by a half dozen points in the final minute then had to weather a comeback by Dickinson State, eventually fending off the Blue Hawks, 82-79, to advance in the North Star Athletic Association playoffs to the NSAA final four in Watertown, S.D., this coming weekend.
“Our guys hung in there,” Waldorf head coach Nigel Jenkins said.
“It was a great college basketball atmosphere,” he added. “It was a battle back and forth and I’m happy that we found a way to close this one out; we came up short in our last two games.”
The Warriors last two games of the regular-season came down to a pair of missed shots at the buzzer for Waldorf in losses to Mayville State and Viterbo, which in part sent the Warriors on the road for Tuesday’s quarterfinal contest.
That, and the Blue Hawks own rally against Waldorf on Feb. 7, as the Warriors (11-17 overall) held a five-point lead in the final minute only to see Dickinson State rally on its home court for an overtime win.
Learning from those experiences, the Warriors showed they know how to finish when it counts, taking control of the game in the final 6 minutes in Tuesday’s playoff contest.
Trailing 62-58, Waldorf clamped down on defense, allowing just a lone 3-pointer to Malcohm Hill during a five-minute stretch.
During that stretch, the Warriors tied the game on two Quincy Minor Jr free throws, capped a 9-0 run with a Gabriel Munoz bucket, and eventually took a 74-65 lead with 2 ½ minutes to play on a Demitrius Martin basket.
Then it became hold-on time for the Warriors, as the Blue Hawks (10-17) made one final, determined charge.
Aided by a technical foul, Dickinson State knocked down four straight free throws to quickly close to 74-69 back.
Waldorf answered with four freebies of its own, seemingly icing the win with a little more than a minute to play on top 78-69, but it wouldn’t be quite that easy.
Kenny Jackson hit a 3 and added a pair of free throws, helping close the gap for the Blue Hawks, then a Donte Walker bucket made it a one-possession game.
Waldorf’s 7-foot-3 post, Munoz, stepped up with a huge play to stall the Blue Hawks momentum, though, an offensive rebound and a hoop-and-harm 3-point play that gave the Warriors some breathing room, up 81-76.
That breathing room disappeared as Dickinson State scored its own triple with 17 seconds left on a 3-ball by Walker, after a pair of offensive rebounds, forcing Waldorf to come up big in the clutch yet again.
A Demitrius Martin freebie put the Warriors tenuously on top 82-79, then Waldorf weathered a pair of errant 3-point attempts by the Blue Hawks.
“Our guys came up with some big plays down the stretch,” Jenkins said. “I give Dickinson State a lot of credit as well, that was a great game!”
The win sends the Warriors into the NSAA semifinals on Saturday where they’ll play regular-season champ Bellevue at 6 p.m. in Watertown, S.D.
“One of our goals was getting to Watertown and we accomplished that,” Waldorf’s coach added. “Now we have to focus on Bellevue.”
Demitrius Martin and Munoz led the way for Waldorf with 23 points each, while Munoz grabbed eight rebounds and blocked four shots in the win.
Brady Kuchinka added 14 points, Minor Jr scored 12 and dished out five assists, and Melvin Martin had 10 points for the Warriors, the only NSAA team to beat Bellevue this season as Waldorf topped the Bruins, 72-71, on January 31 in Forest City.
Bellevue advanced to the semifinals with a 62-53 win at home on Tuesday over Presentation.