Steele Morgan, Charlie McCardle continue to excel as part of Mitchell’s formidable frontcourt
Morgan and McCardle combine for nearly 20 points and more than 12 rebounds per contest for the 10-2 Kernels.
MITCHELL — Steele Morgan and Charlie McCardle are proving there's more to worry about in the Mitchell frontcourt than all-state first-team selection Caden Hinker.
Morgan has started in the Kernels’ frontcourt in each game this season, with McCardle playing near starter-level minutes off the bench. Despite playing the same position, the junior forwards fulfill different roles and their contributions have been crucial to Mitchell’s 10-2 start to the season.
Following the Kernels’ second game of the season — in which Mitchell shared the basketball exceptionally and had six players make at least two field goals in a win over Watertown — Morgan expressed the Kernels “have a lot of confidence” and “can perform like this every single game.”
Morgan’s early assessment has held up well over the past seven weeks, with the consistency he and McCardle have brought to the rotation serving as a major reason why.
After a win at Pierre on Jan. 13, Mitchell coach Ryker Kreutzfeldt described Morgan’s offensive play as “opportunistic.” That label could also apply to McCardle, as both find offensive rebounds they convert into putback layups or benefit from the attention Hinker receives in the post and can be found cutting for open looks near the rim.
“Teams double him all the time and so the backside is wide open,” McCardle explained. “Guys like Steele and I always know where to go, and Cade knows where we’ll be.”
In addition to scoring around the basket, Morgan is one of the Kernels’ best perimeter shooters, and at 6-foot-5, he provides rebounding and defensive length alongside the 6-foot-8 Hinker. For the season, Morgan’s 11.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game (3.5 of which are offensive) rank second on the team.
“It’s hard to take Steele off the floor because he’s rebounding, he's able to hit some shots outside and he can get inside and make things happen,” Kreutzfeldt said. “He's a quiet kid who works hard and has really improved, and I think he’s going to continue to improve as we go.”
Kreutzfeldt regards McCardle as “the hardest worker on the floor,” as the 6-foot-1 scrapper can frequently be found diving for loose balls, tipping the ball to keep it alive on the offensive glass and doing what Kreutzfeldt calls “the dirty work.” McCardle’s 7.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per game are fourth on the team.
“Chuck comes in every day — practice or game — and you know he’s going to be one of the hardest workers out there,” Hinker said. “He’s our energy guy. He hustles his tail off and plays his heart out. You couldn’t ask for anything more.”
In the Kernels' 66-60 overtime win over Sioux Falls Lincoln on Jan. 29, Morgan and McCardle combined for one of their best performances of the season, scoring 23 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
As the Kernels rallied from a 12-point deficit in the final 5 1/2 minutes of regulation, Morgan and McCardle scored seven of Mitchell’s final 15 points. In the overtime period, the pair scored Mitchell’s first five points, as a Morgan 3-pointer tied the game at 58, and a McCardle layup the next trip down the court gave the Kernels a lead they wouldn't give up.
“Coach has put his faith into me and I know I worked hard for it, so I just took it,” McCardle said of the late opportunity against Lincoln. “... I feel like I give off energy to other players and get everyone fired up. I’m all about our team. I’ll contribute in any way coach wants me to. Whatever he tells me, I’ll go do.”
It’s only the most recent example of how effective the pair can be. Morgan and McCardle have combined for at least 13 points in every game to date and reached 20 total points seven times (four in the past six games). They’ve also grabbed at least 11 total rebounds in all but one contest — a 16-point, nine-rebound effort at Spearfish where Mitchell won by 20.
When added to Hinker’s averages, the Mitchell frontcourt trio records 42 points and 21 rebounds per contest.
For Kreutzfeldt, Morgan and McCardle’s emergence hasn’t been altogether surprising, as he feels their work ethics are being rewarded with on-court production and team success.
“They put the work in,” Kreutzfeldt said of what has allowed the pair to succeed. “They’re guys who don’t miss anything during the summer. And then there’s Hinker’s unselfishness. He just finds ‘em and gives it up when he needs to. Those two things combined are a pretty good recipe.”