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Lately, late game scenarios a cinch for Blue Hawks

Against Valley City State on the road Monday, the Blue Hawks and Vikings had one of those could-have-gone-either-way contests. There have been a handful of those this season. Most have gone DSU's way. In the final minute, Marcus White's floater p...

Dickinson State senior Dontae Clark attempts a three-pointer against Montana Tech on Nov. 5 at Scott Gymnasium. (Samuel Evers / The Dickinson Press)
Dickinson State senior Dontae Clark attempts a three-pointer against Montana Tech on Nov. 5 at Scott Gymnasium. (Samuel Evers / The Dickinson Press)

Against Valley City State on the road Monday, the Blue Hawks and Vikings had one of those could-have-gone-either-way contests.

There have been a handful of those this season. Most have gone DSU's way.

In the final minute, Marcus White's floater put the Blue Hawks up two. Then VCSU's Rashad Satahoo hit a three-pointer to go up one, followed by clutch free-throws by White with about 10 seconds left.

On the final possession, DSU's Gilberto Shojgreen Jr. rotated over and fouled Ellwood Ellenson with .2 seconds left, stopping what might have been a buzzer-beating, game-winning dunk.

Ellenson missed the first, then the Vikings called timeout, then he missed the second, and that was that.

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"We sent the right person to the line," said guard Dontae Clark.

Those are the games that, in the course of a losing season, may more often than not go the other way.

But on Monday, calm preperation met a little bit of luck to create a Blue Hawk win-not an uncommon theme this year for DSU, which enters today's home rematch with the Vikings already a game above last year's win total.

The Blue Hawks are 5-2 this season in games decided by five points or less, a mark that's far more preferable to last year's 1-3 record in such games.

"I like our team's ability to make winning plays. That's that cliche I've thrown out before. This group is learning how to execute in certain time and score situations," head coach Justin Wetzel said. "Of course I'm never comfortable when it's going down to the wire and it's a tight game, but I definitely trust certain guys to make certain plays."

Those "winning plays"-White's floater-free-throw sequence, Shojgreen Jr.'s foul-are of course coming at opportune times in the game, but also at opportune times in the schedule.

Two of the five close victories came against NAIA Division I Rocky Mountain College, a team DSU had had a hard time against for the last decade-plus. The others were against the NSAA's VCSU, Presentation and Jamestown.

All of those, to a certain extent, were big wins for the Blue Hawks.

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But as Wetzel pointed out, for a team with double-digit new faces-most not from around here-a general lack of familiarity with area teams, plus a calm approach, could be working in DSU's favor.

"Our group's kind of a quiet group, a laid back group. Maybe that's a luxury in a pressure situation. Maybe our downfall at times, but I think it's a bit of a luxury in those situations," Wetzel said. "And I don't want to say ignorance is bliss, but they're not panicking and they don't overthink opponents or situations. They're not looking at it as, 'Man, we never beat Rocky.' They're not looking at it like that. I really think that may help in those situations."

Plus, as junior Ryan Clark pointed out, a little bit of seniority never hurt.

"I think a big part of that is we have an older group. We generally have seniors and juniors on the floor who have all been playing the game long enough," he said. "I think the age and depth helps us finish strong. There's always a group in there that can contribute at the end of games."

Virtuous tiebreaker

At 6-2 with a victory in hand over Bellevue-also at 6-2-the Blue Hawks are the current holders of first place in the NSAA with eight conference games left-six at home and two more on the road.

Were DSU to hold on, it would be its first conference title since 2004.

So far, it's been a different tune than last year's season, which ended at 6-7 in conference.

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"It really feels good," said Dontae Clark, who redshirted last season but saw it unfold firsthand. "I think we had a pretty decent squad last year. We just struggled playing together and putting it together. We had a lot of good pieces, but it just didn't work on the floor. This year I think we meshed a lot better from the start."

The North Star last year sent three teams to the national tournament: VCSU, Bellevue and Dakota State.

As Wetzel points out, the Blue Hawks didn't exactly form a kumbaya circle before the season and discuss their goals, and the focus is still "one game at a time," but hypothetically, a national appearance would be pretty cool.

"Winning Friday is the ultimate goal, but any year you want to compete for a championship," Wetzel said. "But more so than that, it's fun to be around a group that's so coachable. I've said it time and time again, we underachieved last year. A lot of that fell on me. But it's fun to be in a position to make a run. The underlining of that is that's fun to be around a group that wants to be coached. That's the biggest thing for me. Record, wins, losses, history, that stuff aside, it's just fun to be around this group."

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