ABERDEEN, S.D. (KELO) — The expectations for the 2021 De Smet boys basketball team was to contend for a state championship. On Saturday, the Bulldogs exceeded those expectations as they capped off a state tournament run with a 59-43 win over Aberdeen Christian, to claim the class ‘B’ state championship.
“It feels great! It is what we’ve been working for and there was just a huge crowd tonight. It was just fun,” De Smet head coach Jeff Gruenhagen said.
“I’m speechless. This is the best feeling in my life,” De Smet junior Kalen Garry said. “To finally cut the nets down, get the trophy, it’s a great feeling!”
The Bulldogs led by just 3 points after the first quarter, thanks to some strong defense by the Knights.
De Smet continued their strong defense in the second quarter holding Aberdeen Christian to just 9 points.
Along with that, De Smet found their rhythm on offense as they posted their largest quarter of the game with 21 points.
“We took a couple shots that weren’t great and it’s been a physical tournament and we got down the lane a few times and didn’t get some shots to go,” Gruenhagen said. “Then a couple of passes and a couple of shots went down and the energy picked up. It was great.”
Kalen Garry knocked down a long three pointer shot to end the first half, giving De Smet their largest lead at 33-18.
The Bulldogs were shooting 53.8% in the first half and they also committed zero turnovers. De Smet took their first half momentum into the second half where the Bulldogs never looked back.
De Smet outscored Aberdeen Christian 26-25 in the second half to build their lead to 16 points and claim their first state championship in 22 years (1999).
Late in the game, the Knights attempted a small run to close the gap, but a Kalen Garry steal and slam put a stop to that.
Garry finished the game with 23 points and an All-Tournament Team selection. The standout junior scored 71 points in the tournament, which was second best only to White River’s Joe Sayler.
Sophomore Damon Wilkinson also received All-Tournament Team honors and that came as no surprise to anyone. The Bulldogs sixth man scored 37 points in the tournament to go along with 19 rebounds and two blocks.
“The last month or so of the season, he has just been coming on and coming on and playing really great,” Gruenhagen said. “I know I don’t start him, but he still plays a lot and the guys all accept that that is the way it is going to work. Tonight he played a ton and just gave us great buckets.”
Wilkinson was able to shine over the three day tournament despite the loss of his grandfather on Wednesday, March 17, just one day before the tournament began.
“I was playing for my grandpa, the whole way through this, ” De Smet sophomore Damon Wilkinson said. “He died coming up here on the ride up here. All of my friends came and sat by me on the bus and helped cheer me up the whole way here.”
“We found out just a little after we left for Aberdeen, so we’ve been dealing with that a little all week,” Gruenhagen said. “We just told his wife Mary, that we were going to play this one for Bill.”
Saturday’s state championship was the Bulldogs sixth state title in school history.