It's a place the White River boys' basketball team has been before, but not for a few years.

Saturday night at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, the Tigers returned to the top of the Lakota Nation Invitational world.

White River was able to hold off a fierce second half rally from Crow Creek to win in overtime, 73-69 for its first boys' title since 2014.

"All of the guys work hard everyday and good things happen," White River coach Eldon Marshall said. "They're good kids who are a joy to coach everyday, so I'm grateful to be able to work with these guys."

White River led by as many as 18 in the second half, but Crow Creek was able to come all the way back to tie the score at 61 at the end of regulation.

"We wanted to come out and set the tone. We thought we were the older, more veteran team and they're a young team so we wanted to get them shook, but it happened the other way around," Crow Creek coach Billy Jo Sazue said. "At halftime we talked about becoming men, and no matter what happened in the second half, improving from the first. We had a lot of support here and we wanted to make our fans proud, and that's what spurred it."

In the opening minutes, Crow Creek was able to hang with White River, but that didn't last long.

Tyson Iyotte got hot from the field, and as he continued to shoot the Tigers continued to pull away. His 21 first-half points gave White River a comfortable 33-16 cushion at the break.

In the opening minutes of the second half it looked like it wasn't going to be the Chieftains night. White River's lead continued to grow, but Iyotte went down with a knee injury with less than 13 minutes to go.

"I knew immediately something was wrong or I did something," Iyotte said of his injury. "Went to the trainer, checked it out and said it was good, he said it was a bruise. We taped it up, came back and gave it my all at the end."

That was the time for Crow Creek to strike, and strike it did.

The Chieftains got the game close, and Iyotte decided he had seen enough, and with 9:49 to go and his team leading by a less than comfortable eight points, he decided to go back in the game.

"My coach was wanting me to sit out, but I wanted to go in," he said. 

Still, the combo of Luke Wells and Joe Sazue was not going to be stopped. Wells finished with 25 points and Sazue had 23, while Josiah Blue Arm pitched in 16 rebounds. The Chieftains refused to go away.

A tip-in on a rebound from Wells with less than 10 seconds left tied the game at 61. But on the next possession, Wells fouled John Petrik with under five seconds left. It was Wells fifth and final foul of the game.

Petrik, however, couldn't hit either of the two free throws, and the game went to overtime.

"It helped that one of their best players, Wells, had fouled out but we had some players who had fouled out too," Marshall said of his approach going into overtime. "It could have gone either way. We were worried about staying persistent, playing our defense, trying to double team Joe Sazue and keep the ball out of his hands and I thought we did a pretty good job at that.

"We were able to get the ball and score a couple of times, get to the free throw line and Tyson hit a big shot in the corner and that kind of gave us some breathing room."

The overtime period featured big shots from both teams, but none were probably bigger than Iyotte's 3-pointer with 50.4 seconds left to put White River up 70-67.

He had only scored five of his 26 points in the second half and overtime, but when the chips were down he came up with the biggest shot of the game from the corner.

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"The whole first half I was pumping up my team, and we needed a shot," he said. "It just went in, and I got hyped off that."

"He's one of the guys who can score for us," Marshall said of his sophomore guard's performance. "He's young, he's got to get stronger but he's out here running around, he had a great first half."

That would be all the Tigers needed, as a hard-fought final game went their way.

White River is now 5-0 on the season and will take on Kadoka Area Thursday at home.

The loss hit the Crow Creek players hard, as many reacted with heavy emotions once the final buzzer sounded. The Chieftains are 5-1 and going to McLaughlin for the Hunkpapa Classic Dec. 27 and 28 next.

Crow Creek last won the LNI boys' championship in 1998 and last went to the title game in 2000. That didn't take away much of the sting of the loss, but Sazue said he thinks the Chieftains gained some valuable big game experience the program had been lacking.

"You kind of have to know what to do in those big time situations, and this will be good for us down the road," he said. "We're eyeballing a state tournament, we have the kind of team that's going to contend and this is going to make us better."

Sazue said he understands his team's disappointment, but also said he believes this is just the beginning of good things for Crow Creek, especially after watching his team play in the second half and overtime.

"This is a tough loss, but it's December and we're going to grow from it," he said. "It starts with us defensively, when we come out aggressive like that good things happen, the other things seem to fall into place when our defense leads the way. I think more than anything we found that out.

In the rest of the Makosica Bracket, Pine Ridge finished third, McLaughlin took fourth, Red Cloud finished fifth, Cheyenne Eagle-Butte sixth, Tiospa Zina seventh and Lower Brule eighth.

Contact Geoff Preston at geoffrey.preston@rapidcityjournal.com

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.