Before he took the floor for Saturday's 61-55 win over South Dakota School of Mines and Technology at W.E. Osmon Fieldhouse, Valley City State University guard Sekani Milligen knew he had a chance at two milestones: the 1,000-point mark in his career, and the team's 20th win.
Though the first is quite an accomplishment, especially given that all 1,000 points have been scored in the last two years, his mind was on the team aspect.
"I was aware that I was close (to 1,000) after we lost to Jamestown in overtime, but coming into this game I wasn't really concerned about that individual accolade," Milligen said. "Going into the end of the regular season, we're trying to become more of a team and make sure the points per game are spread out so that we aren't dependent on one person once we get to the next level of the season."
Either way, it worked out.
Milligen hit two free throws with 6:44 left in the first half to score points 1,000 and 1,001, and the Vikings successfully avoided a late comeback attempt by the Hardrockers to clinch their third 20-win season in the last four years.
The Vikings used a relatively balanced approach to go up by as many as 17 points in the first half, only to watch the lead get as short as two points with 24 seconds left.
"We knew this was going to be test," Valley City State coach Jeff Kaminsky said. "This is obviously a solid team, an (NCAA) Division II team that's having a really good year, I think they're 16-7, and they really have a lot of good pieces."
The Hardrockers took a lead to open the game, going up 15-11 with under 10 minutes left, but VCSU got in a rhythm defensively and allowed only eight more points in the half, which included a 3-point bank shot fired from halfcourt as time expired.
VCSU split the majority of its first-half points between Aaron Duske, Gus Kueber and Dylan Ostrom, with other players, including Milligen chipping in to take a 36=23 lead at the half.
S.D. Mines started getting shots to fall in the second half, shooting over 50 percent.
It put the Vikings in a position where they never lost the lead, but the lead was also far from stable.
In the final five minutes, Milligen hit two shots, including a 3-pointer to up Valley-City's lead to 55-46, but four straight points by the Hardrockers got it back to 55-50. Duske then hit two free throws to make it 57-50. After Mines hit another layup with 2:22, both teams went nearly two minutes without a point.
But when the Hardrockers inbounded the ball with 27.3 seconds left to play, following two consecutive timeouts, they quickly moved the ball, using a few short passes to get it to Denis Dobkowski-Rylko in the right corner, who banked in the long jumper to make it 57-55.
VCSU then broke the press on the next inbounds, getting it to Milligen who was fouled and hit two free throws to make it 59-55. He also grabbed a rebound, getting it to Ostrom, who passed it to Duske for a final layup with one second left.
Milligen led VCSU with 18 points. Kueber and Duske had 10 points each, as well.