Trailing by two at halftime to an undersized, underdog, Omaha Nation team in their opening round game of the 2017 Lakota Nation Invitational boys' basketball tournament, Pine Ridge Thorpe coach Corey Shangreaux had a simple but effective message to his team at intermission.
“Do you want to play at seven in the morning tomorrow or play at 8:30 at night,” Shangreaux said with a smile following his teams 76-58 win over a scrappy Chief squad Wednesday morning at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center’s Barnett Arena. “They must have listened and maybe not liked to getting their behinds chewed because we came out and played much better in the second half.”
The first half was even as Pine Ridge jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead courtesy of work in the paint by junior Corey Brown, only to have the Chiefs’ aggressive, take-it-to-the-hoop attack draw even at 10 apiece. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Halin Bad Bear again put Pine Ridge up by six only to have Omaha, taking advantage of a rather stodgy Thorpe defense, draw even courtesy of a Sam Hundley conversion inside, a free throw by Jayzon Hundley and a trey by Bryant Freemont.
The spurt was characteristic of much of the first half action with the Omaha quickness offsetting the Thorpes domination on the boards — Pine Ridge had a 49-24 rebounding advantage in the game. And a Thorpe offense that consistently tried to force the ball inside often turning the ball over in the process.
Omaha grabbed it’s largest lead of the game at 32-29 on a couple of dribble drives by Seth Sheridan late in the frame with the Chiefs clinging to a 33-31 advantage at the break.
Despite Shangreaux's spirited halftime address, the game stayed close through much of the second half. A Bad Bear trey and put-back spurred a 9-0 Pine Ridge run to open the frame, but Omaha responded as Jayzon Hundley tossed in four of his team high 12 points before Freemont drained back-to-back 3-pointers to draw the Chiefs even at 45 all with 6:10 remaining.
The two teams exchanged buckets until at 52 all, Corey Blackburn added special emphasis to his first time varsity start. The junior, one of five junior starters for the Thorpses, knocked down eight points in row, part of what would be a 20-point second half explosion, vaulting the Thorpes out to a 64-52 lead.
“It was my very first varsity game starting and I was nervous for sure, so it took me while to get started,” Blackburn said. “They came out and played their game in the first half, and then we just got ourselves together defensively and offensively and began to play like we can as a team of brothers.”
A number of Blackburns buckets in the paint came via crisp passes from Corey Brown who in addition to tallying 17 points pulled down a game high 18 boards.
“Corey Brown is a really good passer when he passes. He really fires the ball, sometimes hard for the kids to catch, so they have to be alert,” Shangreaux said. “And I thought in the second half that whenever they double-teamed him like they did in the first half, he made some great passes. This was our first game and we were sloppy coming out, but we finally pulled it together about eight minutes into the second half and hopefully, we are passed that now.”
Blackburn closed the Thorpes huge second half — outscoring the Chiefs 45-25 — with the final six of his 23 point effort. Bad Bear led Pine Ridge in scoring with a game high 24 points and added 10 rebounds and six steals for good measure.
In addition to Jayzon Hundley’s 12 points, Bryan Freemont and Chauncey Tyndall chipped in with 10 points apiece for the Chiefs.
Pine ridge advances to Thursday’s second round play in the championship Makosica bracket while Omaha moves into Paha Sapa bracket play on Thursday.