Nate Dennis held the ball in the southwest corner of the court in Wells Fargo Arena. The Valley senior turned toward the hoop when a Des Moines North defender closed in. Dennis jumped, then lowered the ball and dumped it cleanly off to Charley Crowley.
Crowley, almost instantaneously, put two hands on the ball and rose toward the rim, where he splashed home his fourth dunk of the evening — but this one was perhaps the most important, as it gave Valley the go-ahead points it needed to beat North, 57-55, on Wednesday night.
“I knew the clock was running down and I had to do something,” Dennis said. “The whole game, they were closing out hard on the shooters, and I knew I’d have to go to the hole and make something happen.
“It just happened to be to the kid who had four dunks, and he made it look easy.”
The dunk was the exclamation point on a Class 4A state quarterfinal game in which Crowley was one of the stars. The senior shot 7 of 12 from the floor and scored a game-high 20 points, thanks in large part to his classmate Quinton Curry’s presence in a rematch for the ages.
The first time Valley (20-4) and North (18-6) met was back on Jan. 17. The Polar Bears secured an 85-78 victory. The Tigers were without Curry, last year’s most valuable player on Valley’s state championship team, still recovering from an ACL tear from over the summer.
Curry returned in early February and worked his way back into game shape over the next six games, all Tiger victories. The 6-foot-6 forward announced his presence with authority on Wednesday, combining with Crowley for 20 points on 7-for-12 shooting in the first half, after which Valley led, 29-28.
“Having (Quinton) out there is just having another big guy that the defense needs to focus on, and it really helps me get open,” Crowley said. “Our offense, inside and out, is huge with (Quinton) back.”
The combination of Curry and Crowley made life difficult for North’s Jal Bijiek, a 6-foot-7 senior who averaged 15.5 points per game and totaled 171 rebounds en route to state. Bijiek went 2 of 9 for eight points and seven boards on Wednesday, and fouled out late in the fourth quarter.
“I thought (Jal) did a good job battling tonight,” North coach Chad Ryan said. “He got into some foul trouble, so he had to change the way he was playing, and that hurt us as a team, definitely.”
Bijiek’s ineffectiveness left most of the game up to Tyreke Locure, North’s sophomore point guard, and his supporting cast. Locure led the Polar Bears with 18 points and seven rebounds. He hit a pair of triples in the third quarter to help North to a 38-32 lead.
But Valley stormed back — Dennis hit a running floater right as the third ended to tie the game at 43, then opened the fourth quarter with a triple to give the Tigers the lead. In all, there were 12 lead changes and another seven times where the game was tied.
Locure played a role in the final tie. After Bijiek fouled out, Crowley hit a free throw to give the Tigers a 55-50 lead. Locure then found Jaihon McCaleb in the corner for three. On Valley’s next possession, North forced a turnover that Locure took to the hoop to make it 55-all with a minute to play.
“We just wanted to win,” Locure said. “That layup changed everything.”
After running off 30 seconds, Valley coach B.J. Windhorst called a timeout. With 29.9 seconds left, he drew up a play similar to how Dennis ended the third quarter, just from the opposite side of the floor. Once Dennis received the ball, he surveyed the defense, then attacked.
He hit Crowley right in the hands. He then rose and flushed home his 19th and 20th points of the night. Curry added 17 behind him to go along with 13 rebounds. Locure attempted a half-court shot for the win on the ensuing inbound, but it clanked off the rim.
“We feel very fortunate to be moving on,” Windhorst said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game. North is a nightmare matchup to play against. They give you all kinds of problems. We just made a couple more plays than they did.”
The Valley crowd erupted with joy. The Tigers advanced to their third Class 4A state semifinal appearance in the last four years. They’ll face Sioux City East on Friday at 3:15 p.m. for the right to go to the state championship game.
North took a while before re-emerging from the locker room. The Polar Bears’ first trip to state in 26 years ended after just 32 fantastic minutes of basketball on Wednesday night. Wells Fargo Arena was packed to the gills to watch both teams play, and North and Valley did not disappoint.
Des Moines North (55) — Locure 18, Deng 6, Malual 7, J Bijiek 8, Myles 10, McCaleb 6. Also played — G Bijiek, Cavan. Totals: 19-48, 10-17.
W.D.M. Valley (57) — Hinkle 2, Skinner 5, Dennis 5, Crowley 20, Curry 17, Sueppel 5, Samples 2, Brown 1. Also played — Brinkmeyer, Frey. Totals: 22-51, 10-18.
DM North…12 16 15 12 — 55
WDM Valley…10 19 14 14 — 57
3-pointers—North 7 (McCaleb 2, Myles 2, J Bijiek 1, Malual 1, Locure 1), Valley 3 (Dennis, Skinner, Sueppel). Fouls—North 17, Valley 15. Technical Fouls—None. Fouled Out—North 1 (J Bijiek).
Cody Goodwin covers high school sports, college basketball recruiting and Drake athletics for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.