A flurry from Mitchell High School flipped Saturday’s game at Huron from a nail-biter to a rout in the second half.
After the Tigers posted a 13-0 run to trim the lead to three at halftime, Mitchell bombarded its hosts with a 25-4 spurt in the first 11 minutes of the second half to cruise to a 54-34 win. Of course, it was nothing new, as dominant second halves have been a staple of the 7-0 start for the Kernels.
A lull in the first or second quarter typically puts No. 5 Mitchell in a tight game at intermission, as it has a 22-point advantage on opponents in the first half. But the second half has been when the Kernels take control, outscoring opponents 225-167.
“We’ve got to get better at putting together a complete game,” MHS head coach Todd Neuendorf said. “We can’t just be a second-half team or a team that plays three good quarters. I think we play four good quarters defensively, but we don’t always do that offensively. Maybe that’s not realistic. There probably isn’t any team that puts four good quarters together.”
Mitchell scored the first 10 points of Saturday’s game and led 20-6 early in the second quarter before Huron began to chip away at the deficit. The Tigers had a 15-11 advantage in the second frame, holding up a trend that has yet to see the Kernels outscore an opponent in all four quarters. Thunder Basin (Wyo.) was the lone squad not to outscore Mitchell in at least one quarter, but the score was 14-14 through one.
Outplaying an opponent for an entire game is a tall order, but several factors have created the trend. Typically, the Kernels are more liberal with substitutions in the first half or foul trouble creates more substitutions.
Against Huron, Zane Alm picked up his second foul midway through the first quarter and missed nearly six minutes of the first half. He then played most of the second half until being subbed out with the game in hand.
The Mitchell coaching staff also prefers to allow the game to flow freely in the first half to see what is working and what is not before making small adjustments at halftime. This also allows players to improvise and dictate the game early.
At halftime, Kernel freshman coach Pat Larson runs down key statistics — points in the paint and points allowed off dribble penetration — while the varsity coaches meet briefly to discuss changes. They also look at where opponents are double-teaming and make adjustments in hopes of capitalizing on open players.
“We can get a look at it at halftime and say, ‘This is going to work, but we have to adjust it this way,’” Neuendorf said. “I don’t like to show the other team how we’re going to do that (in the first half), because then the other team can go in at halftime and adjust upon our adjustments. Unless there is something that we are just really bad at, I like to adjust at halftime.”
In the second half of games, particularly when the score is close, the Kernels tend to revert to set plays on offense in order to create more efficient possessions.
Mitchell has also shown that it is willing to run the same set repeatedly until an opponent proves it can be stopped. That was evident against Campbell County (Wyo.) when the Kernels erased a double-digit deficit by sending the ball into the paint to Alm, who scored 19 of his 23 points in the final 16 minutes, often on the same play.
Against the Tigers, Caden Hinker was the go-to player, having a hand in all 13 of Mitchell’s points in the third quarter, with seven points and three assists. Hinker scored 13 of his 21 points in the second half, while also adding 14 rebounds and eight assists.
The Kernels shot 52.4% in the final two quarters against Huron after shooting 42.1% in the first half. The averages roughly match season totals, as Mitchell shoots 55.3% in the second half for the season, compared to 41% in the first half.
“When it’s close and we need baskets, I call (a set) every time down the floor,” Neuendorf said. “Our guys find it comfortable. If we’re playing fast — if they’re dribbling too much and playing one-on-one — you’ll see me start to call sets. It seems like it slows them down, they become more comfortable and we play smoother.”
Mitchell faces Sioux Falls Christian at 7 p.m. Friday at the Corn Palace.