The reigning Region XIII champions and this year’s regular season champions, North Dakota State College of Science, defended their title by playing stifling defense, dominating the boards and hitting some big long range shots against Dawson Community College. By virtue of their victory in Glendive back in January, the Wildcats earned the regular season title. Along with the title came the #1 seed in the Region and home court advantage in the post-season. That paid off for NDSCS as they rode the momentum from the home crowd to win the Region XIII Championship.
A few weeks ago, Dawson had gone on the road to beat the reigning champs during the regular season, but they couldn’t duplicate that success on Sunday night in Wahpeton. It was a low scoring affair at the outset. The Wildcats match-up zone gave the visitors fits early on. Besides a couple of buckets from Brent Finn, the Bucs couldn’t get anything to fall. NDSCS wasn’t doing much better, but they did lead 7-6 after seven minutes had passed. Gare Ewefada collected an offensive rebound, got fouled and connected on two free throws. Neither team scored for the next 3½ minutes. NDSCS broke the drought with a couple more free throws on another offensive rebound by Johnnie Turner III. Two more free throws pushed the lead to 13-6 before Brent Finn hit a pull-up jumper for the Bucs. After an Oman Oman bucket in the post, Finn answered back with an assist down low to Tyrell Harper to make it 15-10. The lead stayed between 5-8 points for most of the remaining time in the first half until Tate Savoie scored on a nifty drive to cut the lead to 4 at 25-21 with 2:38 remaining. NDSCS didn’t hesitate in responding as Sam Baker scored a tough contested 3-pointer on the next possession and then followed it up with another 3 in transition to make it a 10 point game. The home team went into the locker room at half-time up 33-23. Oman Oman led them in scoring in the first half with 10 points.
In the second half, Dawson again whittled the deficit down to 6 points on 2 free throws by Simon Falokun and a steal and drive by Brent Finn, but Newbern scored on the other end to stop the momentum. Finn again cut it to six a few minutes later, but this time Baker connected on another contested 3-pointer. Dawson cut the deficit to 5 points on an offensive rebound and putback by Tyrell Harper, though they couldn’t get any closer because Conference Player of the Year, Melvin Newbern, Jr., scored on offensive rebounds on the next two possessions. Eventually the home team stretched the lead to 20 points with 5:39 remaining on a 20-6 run, but the Bucs didn’t give up. They made a furious rally in the closing minutes outscoring the Wildcats 13-2. They pulled within 9 points on three drives by Harper and an assist from Harper to Falokun. On the next possession Tate Savoie stepped in to take a charge on Baker as he drove to the hoop. The basket went in and Savoie was called for a blocking foul. Baker’s free throw also went in and the 11 point deficit with less than 2 minutes remaining was too much to overcome. NDSCS won the game and the championship 74-59 and will face #1 Indian Hills in the District Championship on Thursday for the automatic birth to Nationals. They outrebounded Dawson 44-30 and held them to 36% shooting from the field and 5% from the 3-point line (1-19).
NDSCS was led by Sam Baker’s 23 points and Melvin Newbern’s 16 points and 9 rebounds. Dawson’s Brent Finn scored 17 points, Tyrell Harper had 18 points and 9 rebounds, and Tate Savoie contributed 12 points.
Dawson Coach Joe Peterson was disappointed, “I think we were a better team than we showed tonight. We struggled offensively, especially from the outside. And when you are playing against a zone, you need to hit a few jumpers to make them pay. I thought our defense kept us in the game, but we didn’t come up with the big rebounds at the key moments. There’s a reason they have won the league four years in a row. It takes a special team and a special effort to dethrone a champion. Unfortunately we just didn’t have what it took tonight.”
It’s the third time in four years that Dawson has lost the Regional Championship Game to North Dakota State College of Science. Dawson finished the year at 24-8.