BISMARCK - Minot guard Caleb Albertson made his rounds at the Bismarck Civic Center on Saturday night, taking any hug, handshake or atta-boy that came his way.
But they weren't the brand he'd hoped for, or even expected. The few embraces Albertson had following Minot's 65-59 loss to Bismarck High in the state-qualifying game were Magi fans conveying their condolences and own disbelief.
The fourth-ranked Magicians (16-6), a team ranked as high as No. 2 during the regular season, were denied an appearance at next weekend's Class A state tournament.
From left to right, Minot’s Noah Bosh, Kyle Gerding and Austin Frank look on in discontent as their season comes to an end at the West Region tournament Saturday at the Bismarck Civic Center.
Bismarck (13-6)- swept by Minot during the regular season - held off the Magicians in a back-and-forth contest, connecting on all six free-throw attempts in the final two minutes to secure a berth.
"We didn't come up with the big plays," said Albertson, who scored a game-high 26 points. "We fought the whole way, played our best, but it wasn't good enough in the end."
All four representatives out of the West Region heading into next week's state tournament are from the Bismarck area, with St. Mary's, Bismarck Century, Mandan and the Braves punching their tickets.
Longtime Bismarck coach Steve Miller, whose team was the No. 5 seed in the region, helped extend the Demons' state-tournament streak to 21 years.
"Both teams were evenly matched," Miller said. "Both shot the ball better (than in regular-season meetings). We were just able to come up with a couple more plays."
A 9-2 run by the Demons midway through the second half put Minot in its biggest hole of the game at 53-46.
Forced to foul, Minot sent Bismarck gunner Taylor Schafer (22 points) to the line where he hit all six of his attempts, and the Demons staved off the Magicians' comeback.
But Albertson made it close.
The senior nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key with just 31 seconds remaining to cut Bismarck's lead to 61-59, but Minot couldn't get any closer.
"He's a heckuva player," Miller said of Albertson. "Just one of those kids who doesn't want to lose."
In a game that featured eight ties and four lead changes, the two clubs went tit for tat up until the end. The Magicians were hindered early, however, when standout Kyle Gerding sat with foul trouble and eventually fouled out with five minutes remaining.
Schafer and and fellow guard Josh Seibel combined to go 6-of-10 from 3-point range, and when the two Demons weren't hitting from the outside they fed Troy Hausauer (20 points, 8 rebounds).
Brandon Van Dusen, one of eight Minot seniors, netted 14 points to end his decorated prep career.
"We had our our opportunities but we didn't take advantage of them," Minot coach Dean Winczewski said. "And we couldn't seem to get the stops we needed."
An emotional Winczewski was still able to look at the positives following the loss.
"Relatively, it was a successful season," he said. "We didn't end up where we wanted, but I think our program took a big step forward."