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Mitchell searches to regain free-flowing offense after being stunned by Pierre

An offense that had been efficient and crisp for most of the past month never found its flow. Passes into the post were late and jammed into small windows, or sometimes nonexistent, as Mitchell settled for 3-pointers that continuously clanged off the rim in a 46-44 loss.

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Mitchell's Steele Morgan (44) grabs a rebound between Pierre's Jackson Edman, from left, Denton Beck and Lincoln Kienholz (3) during a game on Tuesday night at the Corn Palace. (Matt Gade / Republic)

After spending seven years as the hunter, Mitchell High School finally learned what it felt like to be hunted Tuesday.

By perusing through the Class AA standings, one would assume the third-ranked Kernels should tack on another win against a Pierre squad that arrived at the Corn Palace with a 4-7 record. Instead, they looked discombobulated offensively, befuddled by the Governors’ 3-2 zone.

An offense that had been efficient and crisp for most of the past month never found its flow. Passes into the post were late and jammed into small windows, or sometimes nonexistent, as Mitchell settled for 3-pointers that continuously clanged off the rim in a 46-44 loss.

Now the Kernels head west for back-to-back games against Sturgis (8 p.m. Friday) and Spearfish (2:30 p.m. Saturday) hoping to position themselves for the first of two West River trips this season, with the state tournament held in Rapid City next month.

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“This is a game that we needed to win,” MHS head coach Todd Neuendorf said. “We didn’t understand that we were being hunted and we didn’t respond to that. There’s nothing new we’re going to put in. There’s nothing new we’re going to run because we got the open shots. We ran stuff that works and we’ve got to make shots. If you don’t make shots, there’s nothing you can run.”

For the second consecutive game, Mitchell began the game stagnant offensively, launching 3-pointers that resulted in long rebounds with no offensive rebound opportunities. But unlike the Jan. 28 contest at Brookings, the Kernels never shifted to an inside-out approach.

Pierre’s zone baited Mitchell into taking open 3-pointers from the corners and it obliged with an 0-for-8 performance on those shots. While the Kernels went 1-for-15 from beyond the arc, they shot 58.3% in the paint and each spurt was sparked by inside play.

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This diagram shows the shot selection for the Mitchell High School basketball team against Pierre on Feb. 2 at the Corn Palace. (Source: Hudl)

They jumped out to a five-point advantage after trailing at halftime, as Ben Helleloid had a pair of baskets in the paint, while Caden Hinker was fouled on another. But too often were entry passes missed or late, including one intended for Zane Alm that led to Lincoln Kienholz’s game-winning basket with 30 seconds to play.

“There’s always an open 3 in a zone and you’re letting them off the hook when you take it,” Neuendorf said. “They’re playing a zone because they can’t guard us man-to-man. If we keep jacking up 3 and they don’t go in, the other team is like, ‘Yes!’ We never got them out of the zone because we couldn’t make a shot.”

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As Mitchell looks toward a pair of opponents with a combined 5-22 record this weekend, Neuendorf will be looking for the offense his team put together the last nine games rather than the one that looked like the first two games when the Kernels were still searching for an identity.

Ball movement was critical in the past nine games. Better passes led to better shot selection, as Mitchell shot 50.4% on 16.8 assists per game during the previous nine outings. Against Pierre, the Kernels posted season-lows in assists (8) and field goal percentage (38.6), which led to a season-worst 44 points. It was a flashback to the first two games of the year, when they shot 41.9% on 11.5 assists per game.

Up-to-date photos, stories and statistics for Mitchell basketball's 2020-2021 season Every story and photo gallery written on the Mitchell basketball team can be found on this page.

Mitchell is 8-0 and shoots 51% when it has at least 15 assists, compared to a 2-2 mark and 42.5% shooting in games with less than 15 assists. Alm and Hinker are also directly connected to those marks, combining for 34.3 points and 9.3 assists per game on 53.2% shooting when the Kernels notch 15 assists, compared to 29.5 points and 6.3 assists on 40% shooting when they do not.

“We have to move the ball side to side,” Neuendorf said. “We can’t have a dribbling exhibition. If you’re going to dribble the ball, you have to go to the rack. When people pound the ball into the ground, then four guys watch. We’ve got to be who we are: an inside basketball team. That’s how we got to 10-1.”

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