It was only fitting that a current White River standout broke the record of a past White River legend Thursday night.
Joe Sayler poured in an opening-game record 43 points to lead the Tigers to a 75-70 win over Freeman Academy-Marion during the State B Boys’ Basketball Tournament at Wachs Arena.
“I didn’t even know that. It feels good,” Sayler said of the new mark. “It was a team win and I think a big part of that was my team. They just got me the ball in positions for me to score and they trust me, and I think that’s the big part right there.”
It turned out that the Tigers needed just about all of those points to turn back the stubborn Bearcats.
After leading by as much as 14 points in the opening half, White River found itself in a battle down the stretch.
“I thought we had a great start and got the lead and I don’t know if we relaxed or what,” said White River coach Eldon Marshall. “They’re a good basketball team. They can score. We’ve seen them score. They can knock down threes. They had different guys step up and knock them down. Credit to them, they made a big run in the third quarter and did what they needed to do to get back into it.”
FA-M made three threes in the third quarter and actually grabbed brief one-point leads late in the third and early in the fourth.
However, the Tigers got to the rim often down stretch, mainly in the form of Sayler. The drives resulted in high-percentage shots or free throws where White River made 13 of 14 foul shots, Sayler responsible for 10 straight.
“Joe had to take over. He did a great job of getting in the paint and attacking,” Marshall said. “That’s what we talked about, all of our guys, looking to attack and make them either foul us or get great shots in the paint.”
Even with all of those free throws, the Bearcats hung around and eventually closed to within three points on a three-pointer with 10 seconds left. However, Sayler iced the win with two more foul shots for the final margin.
“I’m so proud of our guys for not quitting,” said FA-M coach Austin Unruh. “When you’re playing a great team like that and get blitzed early it can be tough.”
While the Bearcats eventually heated up on offense, they simply had no answer for Sayler.
“He proved that he’s one of the top players all classes in the state of South Dakota,” Unruh said. “He had a career night and it took that to get us tonight.”
Connor Epp finished with 26 points to lead the Bearcats, 19 coming in the second half. Matthew Hagen contributed 13 and Thalen Schroeder 12.
FA-M (21-3) takes on Castlewood in consolation round action at 1:45 this afternoon.
Unruh said the goal coming into the tournament was to win at least two games.
“That goal is still in front of us,” he said. “They say consolation champion at the end, so we want to be a champion coming out of here.”
Kendrell Cuevas added 11 points to the White River total, while Nicolas Marshall and Dylan Marshall each finished with nine.
The Tigers (20-2) face Lower Brule in the semifinals at 7:45 this evening. Lower Brule won a previous matchup by three points.
“They’re just as quick and athletic and play so well together. They create a lot problems defensively for you,” Coach Marshall said. “We didn’t do as well as I thought we would have against their pressure so we’re going to have to improve on that and take care of the ball, and hopefully we’re in attack mode with them and can make things happen inside.”
FREEMAN ACADEMY-MARION (21-3): Dylan Johansen 1 0-0 2, Connor Epp 7 12-15 26, Donte Butler 4 1-2 9, Thalen Schroeder 5 0-2 12, Quincy Blue 2 0-0 6, Matthew Hagen 4 4-6 13, Maddox Kihne 1 0-0 2. Totals 24-53 17-25 70.
WHITE RIVER (20-2): Nicolas Marshall 3 2-4 9, Dylan Marshall 3 3-5 9, Joe Sayler 13 14-15 43, Kendrell Cuevas 5 0-0 11, Gavin Folkers 1 0-0 3. Totals 25-55 19-24 75.
Freeman Academy-Marion 12 23 48 70
White River 20 33 49 75
3-point field goals – Schroeder 2, Blue 2, Hagen; N Marshall, Sayler 3, Cuevas, Folkers. Total fouls –Freeman Academy-Marion 18; White River 20. Rebounds – Freeman Academy-Marion 29 (Schroeder 9, Blue 8); White River 36 (Sayler 9, Cuevas 8). Assists – Freeman Academy-Marion 7 (Epp 4); White River 10 (Sayler 4, D. Marshall 3). Steals – Freeman Academy-Marion 6 (Butler 3); White River 1.
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