In the first clash of Sioux Falls teams this season, the Washington boys looked every bit as good as their No. 2 ranking in a 54-39 win over Roosevelt at the Warriors gym.
Washington was in control for most of the contest, but the Rough Riders showed plenty of grit — hovering within single digits of the Warriors for much of the second half. The Warriors would re-assert themselves in the game’s final six minutes with a 14-6 run to reach the final margin.
Deng Geu led the way for the Warriors, dominating in the post for 21 points and 11 rebounds — eight on the offensive end — to go with three blocks and a game-high five assists. The 6-foot-8 North Dakota State recruit had his fingerprints all over the victory.
“He’s a special athlete that South Dakota doesn’t get to see but once a decade,” Washington coach Craig Nelson said. “It’s pretty fun to coach him.”
Geu showcased his unique athleticism throughout, but his skill set shined early in the third quarter. Geu made the first of two foul shots, and after teammate Cole Benson missed the put-back, Geu charged to the basket and slammed the rebound back in to give the Warriors a 27-19 lead — as well as a roaring ovation from the Washington faithful.
Deng Geu handles the ball for Washington against Roosevelt on Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014.
Washington tried to keep things simple on offense, focusing on ball movement around the perimeter while Geu and Benson battled for position down low.
“We ran really good offense — which for us is to move the ball around until one of our bigs get open, then give them the ball,” Nelson said.
It was a formula that worked — especially early on. Washington rumbled to a 10-0 lead to start the game. Roosevelt finally would score under a minute left in the opening quarter on a 3-pointer by guard Manny Christopher.
Roosevelt clawed its way back in the second, keeping the game within reach with a 3-pointer from junior post Tristan Teichmeier to make it 21-14 Washington with 2:50 left. Despite going into the break down 24-17, the Rough Riders were competitive defensively and created some scoring chances off the turnover.
“I thought our kids played hard. I thought they really fought,” Roosevelt coach Derris Buus said. “Our inexperience showed at times, but I was proud of their effort. I was excited to see them fight and claw.”
That inexperience reared its head in the second half, mostly in the way of shot selection for Roosevelt. With Geu continuing his damage in the paint — not to mention clutch shooting from guard Carter Keller, who finished with 10 points — Roosevelt began looking too often to the 3-point shot. At game’s end they stood just 4-for-21 shooting from beyond the arc.
“We settled for too many threes,” Buus said. “We allowed them to push us out. They did a good job defensively, but we didn’t necessarily execute to get better baskets inside.”
Buus added that Roosevelt’s success at digging back to single-digit deficits came in large part from attacking Washington’s post players. Once Roosevelt abandoned the inside attack, Washington was able to pull away.
A key series came late in the fourth quarter with three minutes remaining. Roosevelt senior Pierce Mriden hit a jump shot with the shot clock about to expire, leaving the Riders down 41-35. Washington’s Keller answered with a spot-up three pointer off an inbound pass, and on on the next play junior guard Sam Siganos stole the ball, dished it to Benson inside, and the 6-7 forward put the shot away. With that, the Warriors led 46-35 — the rally was over.
“We got in a rhythm,” Geu said. “We got it inside, and I found a rhythm and it just clicked from there. When they came back, we just tried to weather the storm and play hard.”