Few teams have discovered a formula to stop Matthew Mors during his high school career, but the three-time South Dakota Gatorade Player of the Year has been Mitchell High School’s master tormentor for the past six years.
The Kernel comeback tour travels to Yankton at 7:30 p.m. today, looking to finally solve Mors and the Class AA No. 2 Bucks for the first time in his six-year varsity career. Class AA’s all-time leading scorer has scored 152 of his 2,522 points in eight games against Mitchell, as Yankton’s margin of victory has matched Mors scoring average against the Kernels — 19 points per game.
Since taking over as Mitchell’s head coach in 2017, Todd Neuendorf’s concoction of defensive schemes for the University of Wisconsin-bound Mors have seen little success. Mors has averaged 24.8 points in four games against Neuendorf-led teams, but this year’s fourth-ranked Kernel squad is vastly improved than in past years.
“Our personnel since he’s been around is as good as it’s been,” Neuendorf said. “We’ll have a little more length guarding him and we have better opportunities to take advantage of them. … We’re going to treat him like he’s the best player on the floor. He’s still going to have double-teams, but we’re not going to abandon ship and leave people wide-open just to take him away.”
The last two seasons, Mitchell used now-graduated 6-foot-2 Kiel Nelson and 6-foot-1 Carter Jacobsen as the primary defender for Mors on the perimeter, while using a slew of help defenders. However, the 6-7 Mors was able to rise above smaller players for jump shots.
Such strategy hinged upon Yankton’s supporting cast not capitalizing on open shots, which netted some positive results. Mors scored 26 points in each of the last two meetings, while teammates averaged 33.5 on 38% shooting.
Despite going 3 of 18 from the 3-point line last season, the Bucks still rolled to a 61-40 win, thanks to a 23-point performance from Cooper Cornemann, who now plays for Mount Marty. In a 2019 contest at the Corn Palace, Mors escaped a double-team in the corner, fired a pin-point pass to the opposite corner for a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter of a 58-50 win.
Mors has posted 24.6 points per game this season, while the trio of Jaden Kral, Rugby Ryken and Aiden Feser combine for 25.6 points per game. While Mitchell may not revert to leaving players open, Yankton attempts 18.9 3s per game, connecting on 31.8%.
“(Mors will) go all the way to the rim if you let him and he’ll dunk on you, but if you cut him off, he’s good at stopping and rising on a mid-range pull-up,” Neuendorf said. “He goes to his left, stops and pulls up. That’s a tough one to guard, because you’re going hard to stay in front of him and he stops, rises up and shoots it. You just can’t get a hand to it because he’s so big. I’ve seen games where teams run a (second) guy at him and he can see overtop and dump it to a kid that’s wide-open.”
Although Mors is a nightmare offensively, the Kernels are just as concerned about his whereabouts defensively. Yankton typically does not force Mors to guard an opponent’s top player, which allows him to roam freely for blocks and steals.
A first-quarter block in the 2019 game made Mitchell wary of attempting shots at the rim and subsequently took 23 of its 41 shots from 3-point range. The presence of 6-10 Zane Alm and 6-6 Caden Hinker should quell those fears this time, but if Mors leaves a player open, the Kernels must take advantage of open shots, particularly after shooting a season-low 36.8% against Sioux Falls O’Gorman Tuesday.
Misses could create long rebounds, which translate into fastbreak opportunities. Mors is also adept at stepping into passing lanes and there are few in South Dakota than can stop him in transition.
“It allows him to roam and not see his man as he would normally have to,” Neuendorf said. “We have the ability to turn it into a grind-it-out game and see how they handle our guys. I think (Yankton) is the best defensive team in the state. I’ve watched everyone and I think they’re the best in the full-court and the half-court.”