The Yankton Bucks, the defending class AA boys' state champions, met the 2017 champs, the Sioux Falls O’Gorman Knights in what turned out to be a barnburner.
It was also a bit of a controversial win for the Knights.
O'Gorman guard Luke Ronsiek needed every second possible and maybe more as his short floater at the buzzer beat the Bucks, 43-42, setting off a wild celebration, putting the Knights into the title game.
After a lackluster first half in which both teams struggled to put the ball in the basket, Yankton shot 30 percent, a bit better than O’Gorman’s 28 percent. The Bucks held a 19-16 lead at the half, and were up 30-29 through three quarters. The excitement level picked up considerably in the final period.
Particularly in the final minutes, and in a frenetic final moment.
With Yankton up 40-39, O’Gorman jumped ahead on a Akoi Akoi bucket off the low block. Yankton standout sophomore, Matthew Mors, responded with his 25th and 26th points of the night at the free-throw line with 9.6 seconds on the clock to put the Bucks up 42-41.
Quickly advancing the ball into the front court, O’Gorman called timeout with 6.1 ticks left on the clock. Yankton called a timeout if its own after seeing the Knight’s final play alignment.
On the final sequence, the ball ended up in the hands of Ronsiek, who drove into the lane and lofted up a 10-foot floater that settled through the net as time expired for the one-point victory.
“You know what, we changed the play. We were going to run our normal sideline play, and then we decided to take a lesson from one of my best friends in coaching. Coach (BJ) Keppen got it drawn up and the rest is history,” said Knights coach Derek Robey, who watched the final play from near the water cooler while barely watching. “I was thirsty,” Robey added with a laugh.
Mors led the Bucks in scoring with a game high 26 points while Ronsiek led the Knights with 12 points. Jack Cartwright chipped in with 10 points including back-to-back treys early in the final period.
In the first semifinal game, Sioux Falls Lincoln used a couple of big runs in the second and fourth quarters to defeat upstart Harrisburg 53-40.
Harrisburg, an upset winner over top-seeded Sioux Falls Lincoln on day one, surprised Brandon Valley early breaking open a five-all tie with a barrage of 3-pointers to take an 18-10 lead after one period of play.
The first five and a half minutes of the second quarter was all Brandon Valley as the Lynx went on a 17-1 run. Gavin Terhark started the run with an old-fashioned three-point play off an offensive rebound conversion and foul. Treys by Nate Keegan and Evan Talcott contributed as Brandon Valley vaulted to a 27-19 lead.
“We did a great job of staying in front of them on the defensive end, and then we just kind of let them go a little bit there,” Brandon Valley coach Brent Deckert said. “When you have good players you just have to count on them responding when they need to.”
Both teams came out cold from the floor in the third period. A Carter Olthoff 3-pointer was Brandon’s first points of the period at the 4:45 mark, and Harrisburg didn’t get on the board until Nick Hoyt recorded an old-fashioned 3-pointer with 3:43 remaining. Back and fourth buckets followed as Brandon Valley went up 37-35 after three quarters.
The Lynx began the fourth period much like the second, as treys by Talcott and Jackson Hilton opened a 15-0 run and a 52-35 lead with three minutes remaining as Harrisburg continued to struggle to find open looks.
While a number of Brandon Valley players indeed stepped up at various times, one constant throughout was the solid defensive play of senior Nate Keegan, who held the Tigers leading scorer, Nick Hoyt, to eight points in the game, eight less than his season’s average.
“We know he’s one of the best scorers in the state and that we would have to limit his points if we were to win,” Keegan said. “I just tried to deny him the ball and not allow him open shots.”
That Keegan did so came as no surprise to his coach.
“Nate’s been an absolute stud the last two games,” Deckert said. “He’s been a consistent defender for us all year long. We are in the game tomorrow we want to be in, and with eight seniors on this team who we’ve watched grow up, tomorrow night should be special.”
The semifinal winners, Brandon Valley (18-5) and Sioux Falls O’Gorman (18-5) will meet for the Class AA Boys State Tournament championship on Saturday night (7:30) at the Rushmore Plaza’s Barnett Arena.