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Posted On: 12/4/16 9:48 PM
The final game of the night in the Monticello Invitational pitted the host Monticello Magic against the Willmar Cardinals.
Monticello, off its first state tournament appearance since 2006 enters the season with high expectations. Willmar won six games a year ago, but has a lot of new faces playing big minutes. The Magic lost its season-opener Friday to Orono while the Cardinals beat Zimmerman on the same floor and both teams continued trending in that same direction as the Cardinals upset the Magic 65-52.
Monticello jumped out to a 7-0 lead about five minutes into the game but the rest of the game went pretty much to script for the Cardinals. Willmar’s star point guard Noah Slagter won the point guard matchup with Monticello’s Matt Todd and led the team with 27 points.
MVP: Noah Slagter (Willmar)
Slagter is the guy the Cardinals need to rely on to provide big plays this season and he did just that all night as Willmar pulled off the early-season upset. Slagter was a key in not only providing almost half of the Cardinals’ points, but he also did a terrific job controlling the tempo of the game (more on that later).
Best Offensive Performance: Slagter (Willmar)
Slagter had a terrific night for the Cardinals, piling up 27 points and matching highly-touted Monticello point guard Matt Todd shot for shot. While Todd did a lot of his work from deep, Slagter was in attack mode going to the basket most of the evening and hit big shot after big shot to keep the Magic at bay late in the game. Slagter scored in a variety of ways, using a crafty drive game to get into the paint and finishing with runners or over help defenders. Slagter knocked down several jumpers early in the game as well.
Best Defensive Performance: Noah Getz (Willmar)
Todd led all scorers with 28 points, but it was a hard-earned 28 points for the standout junior. A big piece of the credit pie goes to junior guard Noah Getz. Getz scored nine points in the game but his real value was on the defensive end where he defended Todd into a very uncharacteristic performance. Todd did his best to get the Magic back into the game in the second half with a flurry of 3-pointers, but a lot of his shots Saturday night were contested or off multiple dribbles. Getz used his quickness to stick with him off the ball and did a good job fighting through ball-screen actions all night long.
Best Play: Todd’s dish to Hangsleben (Monticello)
Todd didn’t stay down all game and the play of the night came when the junior guard split a high ball screen from the top of the key, drew a help defender and put a slick behind-the-back pass right into the shooting pocket of Magic big man Carter Hangsleben. That tied the game up late in the second half.
Of course Slagter responded on the next possession with a layup and the Cardinals went on a 6-0 run over the next two minutes.
Best Guy off the Bench: Jacob Minnick (Willmar)
With Slagter and Todd doing most of the scoring, the bench guys didn’t really light up the scoreboard. A guy that did stand out on both ends was Willmar senior forward Jacob Minnick. Minnick finished the game with four points, both coming off impressive tip-ins. Minnick also did a really good job defensively, helping control the paint and the boards. Monticello rarely got out in transition because it struggled to rebound and rarely got second-chance opportunities. Minnick’s effort on the glass was a big factor in that effort.
Best Intangibles: Tyler Johnson (Willmar)
Johnson finished the game with nine points which was tied for the second-most on the team. But his value really came in what he did without the ball. Johnson was one of several Cardinals who really stood out simply with his hustle and his activity level. He scored off dump offs inside and did a good job screening and freeing up perimeter players for shots. Johnson also did a great job on the defensive end and played a big part in the team’s effort on the glass.
Best Under-the-Radar Performance: Rezi Useh (Monticello)
A guy that really stood out for the Magic was junior swingman Rezi Useh. Useh scored 11 points and displayed a two-way game that college coaches should like a lot. He’s got a good form on his outside shot — evidenced by three 3-pointers — and he used his 6-foot-2 frame to his advantage on the defensive end. He’s also a willing passer and moved the ball to open shooters when Willmar defenders closed to him hard. Useh’s got some work to do when it comes to tightening up his handles and creating his own shot but he looks the part of a solid D III wing prospect.
Best Underclassmen: Carson Sawatzke (Monticello)
The Magic played five sophomores Saturday night. The guy that stood out was Carson Sawatzke. Sawatzke knocked down two 3-pointers on the night and had one go in-and-out late in the game. He’s got a good looking stroke and did a nice job initiating the offense when Todd played off the ball. His progression this season could be a big key for the Magic going forward.
Best Coaching/Strategy: Slow and steady wins the race
So much of basketball is about controlling tempo and playing at a pace that suits you. In a game featuring two undersized teams, conventional wisdom would’ve pointed to an up-and-down affair. That wasn’t the case at all as Willmar controlled the tempo brilliantly, opting to slow things down and play almost exclusively in a halfcourt setting. Monticello wants to play fast and tried speeding things up but never could because the Cardinals were so methodical.
Best Storyline Moving Forward: How quickly do Magic youngsters assimilate with established players?
The win Saturday night was a big one for Willmar and while it will be interesting to see if this is a springboard win for the Cardinals off a 6-win season, a big question is how quickly will the young guys for Monticello assimilate into the lineup and make a tangible impact? It was clear that Todd felt pressure Saturday night and tried to do too much. Was that because he’s on the radar in a big way now or was it because a lot of his teammates can’t even drive a car yet and are getting their first taste of varsity basketball? If it’s the latter, tracking how quickly guys like Sawatzke, Austin Puppe, Shawn Sellner and Tommy Blackstone gain confidence — and Todd’s confidence — could be really intriguing.