The Dickinson Trinity boys basketball team entered a weekend matinee at home against Hettinger-Scranton as the lone undefeated team in Region 7. On the other end of the spectrum, the Night Hawks have yet to taste victory during the 2018-19 season, losing their previous five games by an average of 16 points.
At the end of their meeting on Saturday, Dec. 22, the Titans' record remained unblemished while Hettinger-Scranton is still in search of its first win. However, the play on the floor was far more competitive than the standings could've predicted.
With the contest serving as each team's regional opener, Dickinson Trinity used a third-quarter surge to outlast the prepared Night Hawks en route to a 42-32 triumph from the Knights of Columbus Activities Center.
While the Titans, the No. 2 team in Class B, added another tally to the win column, the feeling afterwards was more that the road team loss rather than the home team won.
"We tried to get out of the funk, but didn't have our intensity on either side of the floor. I thought the simple plays we tried to make them more difficult than they needed to be, it all comes back to fundamentals," Dickinson Trinity head coach Gregg Grinsteinner said. "You can make every excuse in the book, but there comes a time when you got to take ownership and I'll take ownership for the fact that our kids weren't aggressive for the whole game. ... Our communication lacked today. We had four or five minutes on the offensive end where we executed well, but for the most part, we were outplayed."
Vastly undersized, Hettinger-Scranton was successful neutralizing Trinity's height advantage with a disciplined zone defense, forcing errant passes while tipping others and collecting steals.
"Defensively, we were able to make them uncomfortable," Night Hawks head coach Jeremy Dietchman said. "Our zone is a little bit unconventional for what most people play, so they probably weren't ready for that. Our kids executed it beautifully, we got hands in the passing lanes, communicated and overall, just very happy with our effort."
On the other end of the floor, the Night Hawks were carried by guard Warrick Dilse.
The 5-foot-9 junior attacked his opponents at will, hitting a baseline jump shot and a lay-in as he absorbed contact to give the underdogs an early 8-7 lead. After Dilse hit a pair of free throws, Hettinger-Scranton ended the first quarter on top 10-9.
In the next frame, Dilse whipped a pass inside to senior forward Jacob Dix, who connected in the paint to give the Night Hawks a 14-13 advantage. The Titans responded with a 3-pointer from sophomore Jake Daniel, resulting in the game's 10th and last lead change
Struggling to advance the ball against the Trinity full-court press, Hettinger-Scranton turned the ball over four out of its last six possessions in the first half, allowing the Titans to gain a 22-17 cushion at halftime. Despite the breathing room, the Titans needed to adjust, as Grinsteinner held his players in the locker room until a minute remaining in the break.
"He told us to make your man guard us that should open up the post and utilize the post in the second half," sophomore guard Cole Fitterer said. "That should open everything on the arc for us to shoot."
Besides one three-point make from both Fitterer and junior guard Matt Stafford, all of Trinity's second-half points were generated from inside the paint. The Titans operated differently against the zone, delivering dishes from the baselines instead of simply swinging the ball around the perimeter; that adjustment led to less giveaways and better entry passes into the high and low post.
Still, Hettinger-Scranton was able to keep the Titans in check, relinquishing two less points in the second half than the first, but the team made too many offensive mistakes.
During a stretch where the home team pushed to a 32-20 advantage on a 10-0 run, senior forward Jacob Dix was whistled for an offensive foul, junior forward Connor Dilse missed a wide-open lay-up and senior Gabriel Eaton was off-target a quick 3-pointer.
In contrast to the looks inside by its patient offense during the first half, Hettinger-Scranton fired shots early in the shot clock from the perimeter and played much too fast.
"I think we probably just got a little bit ahead of ourselves, we kind of put the cart before the horse, but like I told the kids are halftime, they are the No. 2 team in the state for a reason," Dietchman said. "They knocked us in the mouth there in the that third quarter, but give our kids credit; they battled back, they clawed and fought with everything they had."
Sophomore guard Jeran Anderson connected on a 3-pointer midway through the fourth, closing Hettinger-Scranton to within 37-29, but the team in blue would not get closer.
Senior forward Aric Knopik paced the Titans with 10 points and six rebounds. Fitterer finished with nine points, scoring seven in the second half.
The Night Hawks were led by Warrick Dilse with 11 points. Dix added nine points and seven rebounds. With only five people playing the entire game, Hettinger-Scranton was the first team to hold Dickinson Trinity under 50 points in a game this season.
"If you would have told me coming into this game that we were going to allow 42 points to the No. 2 ranked team in the state, I probably wouldn't have believed you," Dietchman said. "My kids battled with every single thing that they had, we were able to cause them some fits. If we get a couple more bounces our way or easy breaks, heck this could have been a one-possession game. I'm extremely proud of my kids."
Hettinger-Scranton will look to carry this momentum into the Christmas break as it will participate in the Mandan Tournament. As for the Titans, they will head up to the Minot State Dome next week with meetings set against No. 1 Thompson and No. 4 Four Winds-Minnewaukan.
"We need to get some rest, stepping away from the gym for a while is a good thing. ... Today for some reason, we just seem very uninspired to play and we better be inspired to play when we go up to Minot because we are going to be playing some very good teams that are going to lay the wood," Grinsteinner said. "We got some things to work on, it's still early in the year. We're 5-0 and 1-0 in the region, that's a great start to the year."
No. 2 Dickinson Trinity 42, Hettinger-Scranton 32
HS 10 7 8 8
DT 9 13 11 9
HS: Warrick Dilse 11, Jacob Dix 9, Connor Dilse 7, Jeran Anderson 3, Gabriel Eaton 2.
DT: Aric Knopik 10, Cole Fitterer 9, Matt Stafford 7, Seth Herner 4, Alija Karsky 4, Jake Daniel 3, Cheydan Hauf 3, Isaac Fridrich 2.
3-pointers: HS 2 (W. Dilse 1, Anderson 1), DT 4 (Daniel 1, Hauf 1, Stafford 1, Fitterer 1). Free throws: HS 8-10, DT 2-4. Total fouls: HS 8, DT 13. Rebounds: HS 21 (Dix 7), DT 25 (Knopik 6). Steals: HS 5 (Dix 2), DT 11 (Stafford 3, Fridrich 3). Turnovers: HS 23, DT 14. Records: HS 0-6 (Region 7 0-1), DT 5-0 (Region 7 1-0).