With both McLaughlin and Red Cloud unbeaten so far this season, Thursday afternoon’s Lakota Nation Invitational boys' quarterfinal matchup promised to be a doozy, with the outcome possibly coming down to the final seconds.
It did that, and actually more before a long, long, final second played out in a McLaughlin 74-72 win.
Trailing 74-70, Red Cloud guard Alejandro Rama hoisted up what appeared to be a desperation last second 3-point attempt and though missing, he drew a foul one second remaining on the clock
Rama calmly drained the first two of the three attempts before bouncing the ball hard off the front rim on the final hoping for a miracle tip-in to knot the score. The attempt nearly succeeded as the rebound was pulled down by Red Cloud's Louis Her Many Horses who quickly attempted a put-back as the whistle blew.
After a lengthy confab between officials and coaches, the Crusaders were awarded the ball under the basket with a second still on the clock.
“When the ball came off the rim, he takes it up and misses and we think we win the game,” McLaughlin coach Hank Taken Alive explained. “But the referees said there was an inadvertent whistle and they have the ball under the basket. It was weird ending for sure.”
Torrid Mustang shooting from beyond the arc matched against an excellent Red Cloud transition game in the first half. A steady diet of fast break buckets gave Red Cloud the early lead though the barrage of Mustang 3-balls prevailed in the final minutes propelling McLaughlin to a 38-29 halftime advantage.
So dominant was shooting from beyond the arc that the Mustangs literally disdained the inside game, resulting in 10 of the teams first half field goals coming on the 3-point shots.
Lex Farrell had the hottest hand knocking down three triples among an 11-point first half (17 in the game). William Brown Otter added three bombs as well part of a game-high 25-point effort on the night.
“When I have the shot, I’m going to take it, and if I don’t, I’m going to give it to another player,” Brown Otter said. “Basketball is all about trusting your teammates and my teammates trust me to shoot the ball."
An eight-point run by Her Many Horses cut into the advantage, though a trey by Leon Brown Otter (three in the game) and a William Brown Otter move in the paint put the Mustangs backup 52-41 with eight minutes remaining.
With the game seemingly in hand, a Mustang technical foul led to a seven-point Red Cloud possession. After Rama converted the technical free throws, a Riyen Carlow 3-pointer and a foul and two more Rama free throws cut the margin to 52-48. Second later, layups in transition by Rama and Her Many Horses knotted the score setting up the hectic final minutes.
With the score tied at 69, free throws down the stretch by McLaughlin sealed the win as the Mustangs knocked down 9-of-12 attempts late in the game and 15-20 in the game, including three by William Brown Otter, who hit 6-of-7 charity tosses on the night. Ironically, McLaughlin shot poorly in Wednesday’s win over Marty, converting only 11-of-24 attempts.
Leon Brown Otter joined William Brown Otter and Farrell in double figures for McLaughlin with 13 points.
“We shot the ball really well. We work on moving the ball and getting good looks and not shooting under duress which is when the mechanics break down,” Taken Alive said. “We knew Red Cloud was going to bring it defensively, and we would have to work extra hard tonight. Red Cloud brings fight and a lot of energy, and I’m proud of my boys that they stood up to that pressure.”
Rama led a balanced Red Cloud attack with 23 points. Her Many Horses chipped in with 16, Manual Yellow Horse 13 and Russel Leader Charge 11.
“I told the boys before the game that they are a good shooting team, and if they get hot, it’s going to be a battle,” Red Cloud coach Christian McGhee said. “And they were just a lot better shooters than us today. We didn’t take them lightly, but we were a step slow today. Obviously, we wanted to win the LNI, but I think this will be good for us in the long run. We played really well at times and we will take positives from that.”
With the win, McLaughlin (4-0) advances to Friday semifinal action against Crow Creek (4-0) in a 7 p.m. contest at Barnett Arena, while Red Cloud (2-1) will meet Tiospa Zina at 11 a.m. in consolation play.