Ending in attack mode

For much of the first half, that maroon stripe at half-court served as a finish line of sorts for Williston. Cross it, and leave the suffocating Minot High defense in the dust. Cross it, and an open lane to the hoop appears.

But errant passes, mishandled dribbles and a few too many steps led to easy Magician buckets early and often Monday night at Magic City Campus.

No. 4 Minot forced 20 turnovers, including 13 in the first half, as it put an 84-52 stomping on the Coyotes.

Minot (14-5 overall, 11-5 West Region) put the game away early by building a 47-24 halftime lead. The Magicians forced four Williston turnovers in the opening 1:47 as they scored the first eight points.

Following a 3-pointer by Williston’s backbone, senior Jayden Ferguson, Minot ran off a quick 8-2 spurt over 61 seconds. The first four points of the run spanned six seconds. Minot junior Noah Bosh picked off a sloppy pass and flipped in a layup. Sophomore Ben Bolinske intercepted the ensuing inbounds pass, missed a bunny and Bosh followed with the putback. That put Minot on top 16-5 after four minutes.

“It doesn’t happen unless Ben gets a steal,” Bosh said of the sequence. “It’s a team effort and I’m just lucky to be that guy.”

Ferguson carried the load for Williston, scoring the Coyotes’ first 12 points. He kissed an alley-oop layup off the glass 10:25 before halftime to cut Minot’s advantage to 18-15, but Williston went ice cold the rest of the half.

The Coyotes (3-16, 3-13) missed contested jumpers, but mostly turned the ball over to Minot’s suffocating full-court defense for the next 10 minutes, when they converted zero field goals and three free throws.

Meanwhile, the Magicians put together a 20-3 run and built a massive halftime lead that had the Minot student section chanting “This one’s over!” before, well, it was even half over.

Minot locked down on Ferguson as it made it’s move, keeping the ball out of his hands when possible. He still finished with a game-high 25 points – including 16 in the first half – on 9-of-20 shooting.

“He’s our focus. He’s one of the better players in the state. He’s really, really good,” Minot coach Dean Winczewski said. “We knew we had to slow him down and we did a pretty good job. He hit some early and then when we made our run he missed some shots, and a lot of that I think was us having hands up and running guys at him.”

Minot, which had lost three of its past four games after opening the season 12-2, appeared hungry and motivated in the first 30 minutes.

Minot outscored Williston 17-3 in points off turnovers in the first half and 22-6 in the game. Magicians junior point guard Dakota Halvorson had four of his five steals before the break.

“It just was energy, to be honest with you,” Winczewski said. “We just brought energy and effort. When we’ve done that, we’ve been really pretty good. We can be effective, but it’s got to be energy-based and effort-based.”

In the second half, Minot picked up where it left off, pushing its lead to 62-32 on a Nick Soltis triple from the left wing with 13:10 remaining.

Five Magicians finished in double figures and three senior reserves – Zach Nyakoe, Cole Jones and Chase Mosser – received extended playing time. Nyakoe dropped a season-high six points on three late buckets and Jones bombed in a 3-pointer that sent the Minot student section into a frenzy. Their contributions helped the Magicians finish with a season-high 32-point margin of victory.

Senior forward Kolton Larson lauded the work that trio puts in during practice.

“Guys like Zach and Cole and Chase, they’re the reason why we can compete so well when we come out on the floor,” Larson said. “It’s rewarding to get them out on the floor for significant time and kind reward them for everything they’ve done to make us a better team and the things they continue to do.”

Bosh and Halvorson paced the Magicians with 15 points apiece, while Bolinske, sophomore Braydon Lund and senior Colter Hustad each chipped in 10. The Magicians finished 32-for-66 (48.5 percent) from the field. They limited Williston to 50 field-goal attempts. The Coyotes made 17 (34 percent), including 5-for-21 from downtown.

“We knew after Century we were going to have to turn the defense up a little bit and that all starts with effort,” Bosh said. “Everyone was all pumped up because it was the seniors’ last game here and we wanted to make them proud.”

Minot is locked in the No. 4 seed for the West Region tournament. The Magicians will face Dickinson on March 6 in Bismarck in the quarterfinals.

Before their 3-of-4 game skid, the Magicians had a chance at the No. 2 seed. But now, Winczewski says it’s simple: “Win two (games) before you lose two is what the tournament is. Now it’s our job to get focused and get ready to play.”

Ryan Holmgren covers Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.