A second-half Senior Night scoring explosion carried the Mitchell High School boys basketball team Friday.
The Kernels shot 65 percent in the second half, scored 49 points and picked up their second win of the season, and the first on the Corn Palace floor this season, a 66-58 Eastern South Dakota Conference win over Aberdeen Central.
"We just came out and knew we had to play better than we did in the first half," said Caden Hinker, scored scored a game-high 23 points. "To get this win for the seniors and for how hard they've worked, it's a big deal for us."
MHS (2-17) closes out the regular season at 1 p.m. Saturday against Pierre at the Corn Palace. The win also helps the Kernels' case of qualifying for the postseason. Entering Friday's contest, Mitchell held the last of the remaining spots in the SoDak 16 state-qualifying round, and in position to hold off Spearfish and Douglas for the final playoff position.
In addition to the big game from the freshman Hinker, who added six rebounds, senior Derek Factor scored 12 points and 10 rebounds in a double-double effort and seven steals. Carter Jacobsen added 10 points for the Kernels, who were 9-for-19 from 3-point range in the win.
Kernel coach Todd Neuendorf said the win featured strong performances from players of all classes, including Factor and Kiel Nelson, who put in another solid defensive effort. Kaden Soukup, the Kernels' third senior, drained three 3-pointers in the win.
Neuendorf said he was most impressed by Mitchell's defense, which was aggressive and kept Aberdeen Central off balance in the second half. The Kernels had 13 steals and forced 22 Golden Eagles turnovers.
Mitchell led by as many as nine points early in the fourth quarter, thanks to a 3-pointer from Hinker to lead 47-38 with 5:50 left. Aberdeen Central whittled that lead down, and took the lead momentarily with a 3-pointer from Colton Hansen at 55-54 with 3 minutes remaining.
But Mitchell answered that with back-to-back 3-pointers from Soukup and Hinker once again, putting Mitchell up 60-55 with 2 minutes left, and the Kernels closed out the win from there. The Kernels were also 13-for-15 at the free-throw line in the second half, including 7-of-8 in the fourth quarter.
The Kernels trailed by 10 points at halftime, 27-17, but immediately worked to erase that advantage with nine combined points from Hinker and Factor, trimming the lead down to 32-27 3 minutes into the half.
"Earlier in the year, if we had come out of halftime down 10, it would have turned into 20," Neuendorf said. "But we came out, down 10, and we automatically fought back. We took the lead, they answered, and we came back hit two big threes. That's how basketball is supposed to be, that if someone takes a big punch at you, you're supposed to punch back."
It was a 3-pointer from Helleloid who evened the game at 32 moments later, and an up-and-under three-point play from Hinker put Mitchell in front for the rest of the quarter, keying what was a 17-3 run to put Mitchell up 37-32 with 2:16 left in the quarter.
Andrew Bergan, Seth Martens and Reece Burckhard each scored 15 points for the Golden Eagles (2-14), who will wrap up the regular season at home against Brookings on Tuesday. Aberdeen Central shot 46 percent in the loss and fired 8-for-20 from 3-point range.
"We didn't defend, we gave up 49 points in the second half," Golden Eagles coach Brent Norberg said. "After holding them to 17 points in the first half. We challenged every shot in the first half and we challenged very few in the second half."
Neuendorf said he'd let his team enjoy the home victory on Friday night, and said his team would likely look forward to getting back on the court early Saturday.
"They've been working hard all year, and we're going to let this one sink in a bit," he said. "We'll get ready in the morning and be ready to play."
Mitchell 66, Aberdeen Central 58
Aberdeen Central (2-14): Seth Martens 5-8 1-1 15 Andrew Bergan 5-10 3-3 15 Austin Huff 0-1 0-0 0 Luke Jacobs 0-0 0-0 0 Reece Burckhard 6-9 3-6 15 Alex Harms 0-5 0-0 0 Trey Harms 3-6 0-0 7 Ben LaPointe 0-0 0-0 0 Colton Hansen 2-6 1-2 6 Totals 21-45 8-12 58
Mitchell (2-17): Kiel Nelson 2-7 0-0 4 Gavyn Degen 0-2 0-0 0 Derek Factor 2-3 8-10 12 Kaden Soukup 3-5 0-0 9 Caden Hinker 9-17 1-3 23 Ben Helleloid 3-4 0-0 8 Carter Jacobsen 3-9 4-4 10
Totals 22-47 13-17 66
AC 13 27 38 58
M 9 17 41 66
3-pointers: AC 8-20 (Martens 4, Bergan 2, T. Harms, Hansen), M 9-19 (Hinker 4, Soukup 3, Helleloid 2). Rebounds-offensive: AC 24-7 (Bergan 8), M 26-8 (Factor 10). Assists: AC 7 (Martens 2, Bergan 2), M 13 (Factor 7). Total fouls: AC 15, M 15. Fouled out: Bergan. Technicals: none. Turnovers: AC 22, M 17. Blocks: AC 2 (Bergan, Burckhard), M 1 (Hinker). Steals: AC 11 (Huff 3), M 13 (Factor 7).