With adversity comes new opportunity.
For the top-seeded Knights, the late-season loss of JP Costello, their second-leading scorer, created an opportunity for his teammates to step in and log meaningful minutes as the team jockeyed for position atop District 1AA.
“We told the guys, this is going to make you better,” coach Derek Robey said. “It’s going to make us a deeper basketball team when JP does come back.”
While Costello recovered from surgery to repair the broken bone in his hand, the Knights continued to roll, winning their four final regular season games, including a 62-48 decision over Brookings, which helped them clinch the top seed in their district.
COMPLETE COVERAGE: Class AA state tournaments
“We went with Jaron Zwaggerman as far as starting for him, but a lot of guys stepped up for JP,” Robey said. “We had some guys step up who just wanted to do it for JP, so that was pretty cool. As a team, they really bonded together.”
Costello returned in time for the team’s District 1AA opener against Roosevelt, but came down with Influenza B, which limited his production that night and held him out of practice in the days leading up to the Knight’s district championship game against Brookings.
“He wanted to play in that Brookings game, which we needed him in, because obviously, Brookings is a very, very good basketball team,” Robey said. “Things panned out and now he’s getting himself back in shape. He feels pretty good and he’s healthy.”
Costello’s return to full strength serves to further boost a potent O’Gorman offense which enters Thursday’s quarterfinal against Harrisburg averaging nearly 63 points per game with a .500 shooting percentage.
Costello (13.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg) highlights the Knights’ frontcourt, and at guard, they feature one of the state’s best players in 6-foot-5 senior Matt Cartwright.
The future Augustana Viking is averaging 20.9 points and 2.4 assists per game, with a .550 shooting percentage.
He is having a prolific senior campaign and has been virtually unstoppable against in-state competition.
“Matt’s a pretty special player,” Robey said. “He’s putting it all together. He’s playing hard, he’s doing the little things, leading by example and obviously, he can shoot the basketball. I’m just extremely happy for him, being it’s his last run here and what he’s meant to me and the program, I just couldn’t be happier for him.”
Though Cartwright and Costello immediately jump out as impact players, the Knights receive strong contributions from a host of other players, as well.
Joey Messler is logging eight points a night, Louis Peterson, a 6-foot senior guard, leads the team with 2.5 assists per game, while Zwagerman, who stepped into the starting lineup for Costello, contributes 6.0 points and 4.3 rebounds per game off the bench.
O’Gorman’s offensive firepower is certainly impressive, but it’s the defense which will likely decide the team’s fortunes in Rapid City later this week.
“If you want to win in the tournament, that’s what you’re going to have to do. You’re going to have to get it done on the defensive end,” Robey said. “We are getting better on that end. I’m really happy with the strides we’ve made defensively.”
Here’s a look at the other area participants at this year’s Class AA boys state tournament.
No. 1 O’Gorman Knights
Record: 19-3 | PPG: 62.6 | OPP. PPG: 50.8 ppg
Leading scorer: Matt Cartwright (6-5, sr., guard/forward), 20.9 ppg.
No. 2 Brookings Bobcats
Record: 19-4 | PPG: 56.7 | OPP. PPG: 46.7
Leading scorer: Josh Mohs (6-1, sr., guard), 13.0 ppg.
#Analysis: It’s been a special season for Brookings.
Making just their sixth state tournament appearance since 1990 and first since 2013, the Bobcats went 17-3 during the regular season en route to their first ESD championship since 1988.
With a Region 1AA win over Brandon Valley securing its spot at the table, Brookings now has its sights set on winning its first AA championship since 1987.
“This group has been focused all season long on the ultimate goal of winning a state championship,” coach Travis Engebretson said. “This group of seven seniors’ commitment to playing defense and sharing the basketball on offense has led to our success.”
Offensively, the Bobcats are led by a pair of all-conference picks in Josh Mohs (13 ppg, 5 apg) and Brennan Carlson (12 ppg, 8 rpg).
On the other end of the floor, Devin Coughlin headlines a unit which is allowing just 45 points per game this year.
Brookings’ stingy defense will be tested in the quarterfinals by an Aberdeen Central squad which is averaging 58 points per game.
“Aberdeen has a number of good shooters, Engebretson said. “They’re led by Cole Bergan and he’s a tough match-up because he can play in the post as well as the perimeter. Another factor will be Nate Rook. He is finally getting healthy after not playing most of the season.”
No. 5 Lincoln Patriots
Record: 11-10 | PPG: 59.0 | OPP. PPG: 60.2
Leading scorer: Diang Gatluak (6-5, jr., center), 12.8 ppg.
#Analysis: Defending its state championship for the third year in-a-row will likely require Sioux Falls Lincoln to go through top-seeded Sioux Falls O’Gorman in the semifinals.
It’s a rather daunting task – after a closely-contested meeting between the two in December, the Knights rolled to a 78-49 win on Feb. 14 – but not an entirely unfamiliar one for Lincoln. Last year, the No. 7 Patriots kicked off their championship run with an upset of No. 2 O’Gorman in the state quarterfinals.
“Our goal each season is to be playing our best basketball by the end of the season win hopes of making it to the state tournament,” coach Jeff Halseth explained. “I believe that is how our season has progressed.”
Winners of seven of their last eight, the Patriots bring a balanced scoring attack to Rapid City with all five starters averaging at least nine points per game, led by junior Diang Gatluak, who is good for nearly 13 points and seven boards a night.
The 6-foot-5 forward receives strong support from guards Dillon Barrow (9.5 ppg, 4.0 apg) and Carson Coulter.
One of four seniors on the Patriots’ roster, Coulter has served as the team’s leader over the past two seasons. The 6-foot-3 guard runs point for Lincoln, but can also play in the post.
“Carson is a smart player and with the experience that he has had over the last couple of years, he plays with such confidence,” Halseth said. “He is a player that does whatever is asked of him.”
No. 8 Harrisburg Tigers
Record: 12-12 | PPG: 53.37 | OPP. PPG: N/A
Leading scorer: Brady VanHolland (6-2, jr., guard), 9.3 ppg.
#Analysis: Harrisburg had to learn how to win in 2016-17.
It was a struggle early, with the team losing its first six games as part of a 3-10 start.
But as the season progressed, so did the team. It won five straight over a stretch in February, including a 71-68 decision at Pierre on Feb. 16, which saw the team rally from a 16-point deficit in the third quarter.
“Finding a way to battle back and win in overtime at Pierre, that told me this team can dig down when it’s hard and battle,” coach Scott Langerock said. “It was a toughness moment in our program that I’m not sure we’ve had before.”
The team carried the momentum of a strong finish to the regular season into qualifiers, where it went 3-1 to clinch its first-ever Class AA state tournament berth and first overall since 2001.
Now the Tigers look to continue their Cinderella run, starting with the top-seeded Knights.
“It’s hard to pick just a couple of things that stand out about O’Gorman,” Langerock said. “Their length will make things difficult on the offensive end for us. They have a terrific basketball understanding, experience and are very well coached.”
For its part, Langerock’s squad utilizes an eight-man rotation with Wil Johnson (5.1 apg) running point, and the duo of Chase Altenburg (7 ppg) and Brady VanHolland (9.3 ppg) serving as two of the primary scorers.
Inside, the team leans on Ace Zorr to defend the paint. The junior center is good for about two blocks a game.
Follow Brian Haenchen on Twitter at @Brian_Haenchen .