WILLISTON — Sometimes when throwing down one of his thunderous dunks, Williston High sophomore DeSean Eikens will hang on the rim longer than his coach would like.
In the closing minutes of the Coyotes’ win at Bismarck Legacy two Saturdays ago, Eikens came off the rim quickly, when, as it turned out, safety would have suggested he hang on a bit long. As the 6-foot-6 reigning North Dakota scoring champion came back down to Earth, a Legacy Sabre was unfortunately beneath him and the result was an awkward fall and a knee injury that, thankfully, wound up looking worse than it was.
“I came down from a dunk and my knee just hyperextended,” Eikens said at the start of Saturday’s practice, his first since the injury. “At first, I was (concerned) — it was pretty much my first time being out. But when (the doctor) confirmed to me nothing was torn, it was just about getting back to my teammates.”
The Coyotes hung on to pick up their first conference win that day, and back home the following Saturday against Jamestown, Eikens was in uniform but would not play. Even in his absence, the Coyotes had a chance to win, holding a lead with just over three minutes to go before seeing the Blue Jays run off the game’s final 11 points in a 67-56 defeat.
“Anytime DeSean goes down, I don’t know that there’s one person who can pick him up — it’s a team effort,” said head coach Mark Slotsve. “We’ve gotta win those games, especially the home games.”
Now cleared to practice, Eikens figures to be a go this weekend when the Coyotes host Mandan on Friday to complete the first go-round in WDA play, and start the second run at home on Saturday against Belcourt Turtle Mountain.
In the loss to Jamestown, the Coyotes, sans Eikens, showed an ability to dominate the paint and attack the rim, led by the interior trio of Boston Horob, Brett Engen and William Brown.
“With DeSean out, we had to be closer; everybody had to pull together to get points,” Engen said. “We all had to work well together to get that done. To finish games, we really need to work against the press. We had a lead and we blew it. We just have to work with the lead and protect the home court — that’s what we didn’t do.”
The Coyotes currently sit ninth in the 10-team WDA, but three teams sit above them with two losses. A sweep this weekend would be huge for a team looking to make state for the first time since before the oil boom, and the mission starts against a Mandan Braves team, led by twin brothers Trae and Camren Steckler, who actually grew up in Williston.
“We’ve got to guard the Steckler twins,” Brown said. “We just need to play defense and not let people start shooting wide open shots.”
Watching from the sidelines Saturday, Eikens could see the team improving in his absence.
“I was really proud of my teammates,” said Eikens, who estimated his knee being at about 75 percent on Wednesday. “I’m not the biggest vocal leader there is, but every time they did better, I told them. I’m really happy they competed, but in reality, it’s frustrating at the same time because they should have won the game without me.”
Teams in the 10-team WDA must finish in the top 6 to avoid having to win a play-in game just to get in the region tournament.
Whether the Coyotes are able to crack that automatic berth, or find themselves needing to make a big run to earn that coveted state berth, it stands to reason they’re a team no one wants to see in March with an ever-improving Eikens and a supporting cast that’s getting better week by week.
“In reality, me being out this weekend helped the team,” Eikens said. “With me or without me, we can get it done… I really think we should be above .500 now. Obviously, our record doesn’t prove that, but it’s just a matter of team chemistry.”
The Williston High girls tip-off against Mandan at 5:15 p.m. on Friday and the boys follow at 7.
Saturday’s tip times are 2:15 p.m. for the girls and 4 for the boys.
In case you missed it... View Stop the Presses: January 21st, 2016! Matt Hickman interviews WHS basketball players Brett Engen, William Brown, and DeShawn Eikens!