The little things added up to a lot for Crow Creek in the first semifinal of the Lakota Nation Invitational Friday night at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
Offensive rebounding was key and the Chieftains cashed in on the extra chances and moved on to tonight's title game, stopping McLaughlin 72-45.
Crow Creek, 5-0, faces White River in the championship game that begins at approximately 8:30 p.m.
The Chieftains had four players score in double figures and balance has been a key for the team. Head coach Billy Jo Sazue said he has an unselfish team, something they have preached since day one of the season.
“We before me and it starts on our defensive end, helping each other down there first,” he said. “It’s working together for the rebound and stop. It’s taking what the other team gives us. We play through Joe Sazue and Luke Wells first, and everybody feeds off those guys. When they draw double teams and somebody is open, they are more than willing to find that open man.”
Leading 21-16, the Chieftains began to take control late in the first half, thanks to outstanding offensive rebounding.
After a couple of offensive boards, Tevin McBride hit a 3-pointer to put Crow Creek up by 11. Josiah Blue Arm then put back a missed free throw for a 33-20 advantage with a minute to play.
“Those are big plays, momentum changing plays,” Billy Jo Sazue said. “They are backbreakers for the other teams. We made the most of them. We cashed in on And-1s and a couple of open looks. Those are the difference in the world, the little plays.”
Crow Creek led 35-20 at the break.
The Chieftains maintained the momentum and then some early in the second half and led 44-23 on a Sazue 3-pointer.
McLaughlin could never make a run again as the Chieftains led by as much as 32 points in the final minutes, resulting in a running clock.
“We played as a team and stuck through it all,” Joe Sazue said. “We had a feeling on how they would be; we played them all summer.”
Getting into the title game means a lot to the Chieftains, Joe Sazue said, after they came up just short in last year’s semifinals to Red Cloud.
It was a good feeling, man … especially from what happened last year," he said. “It feels good this year."
Blue Arm paced the Chieftains with 17 points, followed by Wells with 15, Sazue with 14 and Jayden McBride with 11.
“We have balance because we work all summer together. When we get offensive boards, we run in transition too and knock down big shots,” Joe Sazue said.
Billy Jo Sazue said that it is still early in the season and they don’t want to be happy with where they are at. He said they want to keep building.
“Defensively for the most part we are really happy,” he said. “Offensively, we’ve kind of gotten in a hurry at times. We’re taking end-of-shot-clock shots at the beginning of the shot clock. We need to be a little more patient and make that other team work a little bit.”
McLaughlin, 4-1, was led by Will Brown Otter with 17 points. The Mustangs face Pine Ridge in the Makosica bracket third-place contest at 1 p.m.