It's only about seven miles between the two schools, but the Bismarck Demons found the Mandan High School gym to be an entirely different world Saturday night.
Bismarck, which had defeated Mandan by 12 points in early January on the BHS floor, was devoured whole at Mandan. The final accounting was 71-47, and the tale was told in the first half.
Mandan missed only five shots while speeding away to a 20-7 lead, and Bismarck never came close to crawling out of that deep hole the rest of the way.
The Demons went 6:13 without scoring in the middle of the first half, enabling Mandan to open a 28-7 lead on a pair of free throws by Evan Arenz.
BHS narrowed the gap to 13 on a 3-pointer by Joe Jahner that made it 28-15, but Mandan had an instant reply. The Braves outscored Bismarck 10-2 the rest of the first half for a 38-17 advantage at intermission.
Bismarck connected on just seven of 28 shots in the first half for 25 percent efficiency while Mandan was shooting 48 percent on 14 of 29.
Mandan didn't let up the second half, boosting its shooting percentage to 53 percent for the game. Bismarck lifted its accuracy to 35 percent for the game, but was unable to make a game of it over the final 18 minutes.
"When you get the shots falling everyone is having fun, and it's easy to get back and play defense," said Camren Steckler, a 6-foot-6 senior who tallied 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a balanced Braves attack.
Junior guard Trey Wiest added 14 points. Six-foot-4 senior Trae Steckler and junior reserve guard Keshawn Laframboise popped in 13 points each.
There was more to Mandan's brilliant showing than offense.
"We played well at both ends. ... I thought we played very good defense tonight. We were in their face tonight and didn't give them any easy shots," Camren Steckler observed.
A Kaide Gimbel 3-pointer enabled BHS to close within 42-29 a little more than four minutes into the second half. Again Mandan crushed that little bit of momentum, going on a 10-4 burst for a 52-33 lead with eight minutes to play.
Mandan's zenith on a three-point play by Trae Steckler with 3:07 on the clock. That put the Braves in charge 71-43.
The Braves, who entered the game ranked fifth in the state Class A ranks, improved to 14-2 with the victory, 11-2 in the West Region. Third-ranked Bismarck slid to 12-2 and 13-4.
Gimbel, a 5-6 senior, was the only BHS player to reach double figures, scoring 10 points.
Camren Steckler and Elijah Klein each nabbed 10 rebounds as the Braves built a 44-31 advantage on the boards.
"This is the best game we've played all year," Camren Steckler said.
But he had no illusion that Saturday's outcome was definitive.
"Bismarck is a tough team, and if we play them again they'll be ready for us, and we'll be ready for them," he noted.
Bismarck coach Jordan Wilhelm simply tipped his hat to Mandan.
"Give credit to those guys. They were prepared for this game. ... Mandan obviously wanted this more than we did," Wilhelm said.
"Ultimately," he added, "this is one game. We can bounce back from it and learn from our mistakes, but our guys have to have a short memory."