De Smet rallies for second straight Class ‘B’ Title

It wasn’t pretty early on, as De Smet’s championship game opponent Lower Brule took an early lead off hot shooting, but by the final buzzer, De Smet built a 23-point lead to win their second straight Class ‘B’ State Boy’s basketball title.

“Back-to-back and we lost a couple of starters that graduated,” Bulldogs’ coach Jeff Gruenhagen said. “The guys that came in and filled those starting roles this year and played for us really learned a lot during the season and helped us get to this point.”

The Sioux built a 13-10 lead at the end of the first quarter as they moved the ball well on the offensive end and stopped the Bulldogs from getting open looks on the other end of the floor. The Bulldogs were able to recover in the second quarter, outscoring Lower Brule by seven in the quarter to take a 25-21 lead into the intermission.

“We were happy to just get that lead back going into the locker room and gain some momentum,” Gruenhagen said. “But I told the guys to just keep playing, get between them, get a hand up and have to do a better job of getting boards.”

The second half was the Damon Wilkinson show for De Smet. His 6-9 frame was a mismatch for the smaller Lower Brule team.

“We knew he had to try to guard a smaller guy tonight and they got some baskets on him early before we adjusted,” Gruenhagen said. “He just kept working even had a few misses early on, he kept working on getting open.”

Wilkinson finished the game with 19 points and 23 rebounds to carry the Bulldogs down the stretch. DeSmet out-rebounded Lower Brule 53-32 Saturday night.

Tory Holland added seven points and 10 rebounds for the Bulldogs, who didn’t lose a game to a South Dakota school this season. Kalen Garry added eight points. 

Ellwyn Langdeau scored eight of Lower Brule’s 13 first-quarter points and finished with 13 points. Lower Brule’s last field goal cam eiwth 43 seconds left in the third quarter and didn’t score a point in the fourth.

For DeSmet, they repeat as champions, and the did it thanks to a challenging regular season slate according to Gruenhagen.

“We set-up a really hard schedule for them, we traveled around, played a lot of guys,” Gruenhagen said. “Last year, we played nine rated ‘B’ teams in our schedule and this year we played about five rated ‘A’ schoools and just had a great time doing it.”

After entering the 2020 state tournament as the top-seed and losing the tournament due to COVID-19, the Bulldogs didn’t quit, in large part to their strong senior class.

“Those guys have been great,” Gruenhagen said. “Two of the started for me (as freshman) and they just moved up… It’s been great that they just come to compete in every sport that they’re in.”