De Smet rides defense, rebounding to win over Lower Brule for third-straight Class B title

Mar. 18—ABERDEEN — All season long, De Smet preached defense and rebounding.

Those locker room pep talks paid off for the third-seeded Bulldogs on Saturday, as their defense and rebounding led them to a third state championship in a row, taking down top-seeded Lower Brule 62-48 in the Class B boys basketball state championship.

They set the tone on the glass early, pulling down six offensive rebounds their first two trips down the floor. From there, they went on to pick up 15 offensive boards for the game, outrebounding the Sioux 42-27 when the final buzzer sounded. And in the first half, the Bulldogs' 13 offensive rebounds equaled Lower Brule's total rebounds.

"In their zone, we want to always attack the offensive boards because if we're not shooting it well, we can usually get on the glass," De Smet coach Jeff Gruenhagen said. "They're out trying to put pressure on you (on the perimeter). So they got two or three guys out, that only leaves two guys in. You want to go get as many boards as you can."

On the defensive end of the floor, De Smet held Lower Brule to 34% (18 of 53) from the field and 29.6% (8 of 27) in a second half where the Bulldogs outscored the Sioux 35-22. The offense started to click in the second half for De Smet, too, as it shot 55.6% (10 of 18) from the floor and 44.4% (4 of 9) from 3-point range.

Tom Aughenbaugh and Kadyn Fast, a pair of juniors poured in 16 and 10 points, respectively, while senior Damon Wilkinson tallied a game-high 18. Aughenbaugh's 16 points all came off the bench, as he poured in eight points in each half and went 4-for-8 from 3-point range.

"He's that guy. That's what he does for us," Gruenhagen said of Aughenbaugh, who tied the school with seven 3-pointers in a game earlier this season. "That's what the guys look for him to do."

In what was a rematch of last year's state championship game where he had 23 rebounds, Wilkinson pulled down 20 rebounds Saturday, including 16 in the first half. Wilkinson exited the game for a brief period in the second quarter after he said he was kneed in the bladder.

After 29 seconds on the bench — the only 29 seconds he wasn't on the floor — the 6-foot-10 senior was back on his feet, walking to the scorer's table to reenter the game with no plans of leaving.

"I was like, 'You know what? This can hurt tomorrow. I'm just going to go back in and finish the game,'" Wilkinson said.

Briar LaRoche Jr. picked up 16 points in the loss, while Gavin Thigh added 15 and Ellwyn Langdeau chipped in 10.

The Bulldogs ended their season as state champions for the third time in a row, capping off a 23-3 campaign where they didn't lose to a Class B squad. Lower Brule finished as the runner-ups for the second consecutive campaign, closing its season at 22-4.

"It feels amazing," Wilkinson said of the third-straight championship. "We came out, we were the underdogs. ... We definitely showed them."