The Bulldogs are now officially the top dogs of Class B boys’ basketball.
After losing in the title game two years ago, De Smet completed a mission Saturday night at Wachs Arena. The Bulldogs led from start to finish in a 59-43 championship game victory over Aberdeen Christian.
“I think we were on a mission,” said De Smet Coach Jeff Gruenhagen. “We didn’t want to sound overconfident, but our goal was to get to this game and win this game.”
The top-seeded Bulldogs were going to be the number one seed in last year’s tournament before COVID wiped out the event.
“This is the best feeling in my life. I’m just speechless,” said De Smet standout Kalen Garry. “For last year to get canceled, us putting in the work in the off season, this year working our butts off every day in practice. Our coaches push us every day and then to finally get to the state tournament and to have the three biggest games of our lives, it just feels amazing. There’s no better feeling in the world than this.”
It was Garry who once again had his imprint all over De Smet’s biggest game of the season.
The junior scored half of his team’s points in a 10-0 run to start the game and produced another solid performance, finishing with 23 points, eight rebounds, four assists and four steals.
Unlike the night before when Christian scored 26 points in the opening quarter, the Knights managed just 29 points in the first three quarters against De Smet.
“They’re good in very facet of the game. They’re very sound defensively. They’re well-rounded on offense. They make few mistakes,” said Christian Coach David Rohrbach. “They’ve got five guys that can all do almost a little bit of everything. They can all defend. They’re physical and they shoot well, so they’re a very tough matchup.”
While the Knights weathered the opening De Smet surge and closed to within 10-9, they couldn’t withstand the next run by the Bulldogs which left Christian trailing 33-18 at the half. The open looks Christian had found in the first two games of the tourney were not available in the title game.
“We knew that they could shoot,” said De Smet senior Ethan McCune. ‘We had to guard the three-point line. We had to stop the drive and keep them out of the lane, so we had to keep our hands up.”
The Knights still managed to make eight three-point shots in the contest, but most came at a high degree of difficulty.
“It’s important as every game for us to not let anybody get on from the three-point line. Just get out and contest that,” Gruenhagen said. “You don’t want somebody seeing that ball go in right away. And they still made a lot of threes tonight, some tough ones, contested, we’ve got guys flying at them and they’re still knocking some down. That’s just going to be a really good basketball team here in the future.”
While the Knights never went away, they were never able to make a serious charge, either. Christian pulled to within 11 points on three different occasions in the second half, but could never get the margin under double digits.
“We’d hit a couple and then you’re like maybe we’ll get a little momentum. But we could never get free enough to go on any runs,” Rohrbach said. “They do such a good job in their one-on-one defense where they really don’t have to send a lot of help. When you’re not having to draw a double team, you struggle to get open looks. It was a battle to get into much of a flow.”
Tory Holland added 10 points to the De Smet total, Damon Wilkinson eight, and McCune and Rett Osthus seven each.
The Bulldogs finished the season at 25-1 and won the state championship the current players have been after for two years.
“Mission accomplished on that,” Gruenhagen said. “The next mission is to show up here next year.”
Ethan Russell topped Knights with 18 points and Jett Becker followed with 11.
Christian ended the season with a 20-5 record.
“I told the guys there’s countless other teams in the state that would have loved to be in our position,” Rohrbach said. “Obviously, it hurts right now. In the heat of it it stings, but the positive side is we got a ton of experience. It was an incredible weekend. The good news is, is we bring a lot of guys back that got court time and experience. We have a lot of sophomores coming back.”
ABERDEEN CHRISTIAN (20-5): Ethan Russell 7 4-5 18, Brent Ekanger 1 4-4 6, Jett Becker 4 0-0 11, Jackson Isakson 0 1-2 1, Malek Wieker 2 0-0 4, Abe Kretchman 1 0-0 2. Totals 15-41 5-6 43.
De SMET (25-1): Ethan McCune 3 0-0 7, Tory Holland 4 0-0 10, Rett Osthus 3 0-0 7, Kalen Garry 9 3-4 23, Cody Cavanaugh 1 2-2 4, Damon Wilkinson 4 0-2 8. Totals 24-46 5-8 59.
Aberdeen Christian 9 18 29 43
De Smet 12 33 41 59
3-point field goals – Russell 4, Becker 3, Wieker; McCune, Holland 2, Osthus, Garry 2. Total fouls – Aberdeen Christian 11; De Smet 11. Rebounds – Aberdeen Christian 21 (Russell 5); De Smet 28 (Garry 8). Turnovers – Aberdeen Christian 9; De Smet 14. Assists – Aberdeen Christian 10 (Wieker 4); De Smet 15 (McCune 4, Osthus 4, Garry 4). Steals – Aberdeen Christian 1; De Smet 6 (Garry 4).
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