It was a rough Lakota Nation Invitational for the Custer High School boys basketball team last week, as the team went 1-3 on its way to a 14th place finish in the 16-team field.
Saturday the team played its final game of the tournament against the St. Francis Warriors in the tight confines of the Club for Boys in Rapid City.
After falling behind early in the first half the team got rolling and tied the game around the seven minute mark after a Dominick Milliken basket inside followed by a Nolan Patzlaff three-pointer to make the score 13-13.
It was mostly downhill for the Wildcats there, however, as the Warriors went on a 13-0 run to take command of the game, a run that didn’t end until Kelley hit a three-pointer late in the half.
“We just didn’t take care of the ball,” head coach Paul Kelley said. “Some of that might be the fact we played four games in four days, but we got really sloppy and lost our concentration. Give St. Francis credit. They took advantage of it.”
The Wildcats went into halftime down 31-18, and Jace Kelley got the Wildcats within 10 with a three-pointer to start the second half. A Patzlaff three-pointer answered another smaller St. Francis run at around the 12:40 mark, but the Warriors started to pull away from there, using a Mahpiya Horse Looking basket, foul and free throw, a basket inside from Aaron White Bird followed by a Caylen Clairmont basket, foul and free throw off a steal to put the Warriors up 45-27 with 7:10 left in the game.
Kelley said the team struggled defensively in the second half, and St. Francis’ superior team speed on the smaller Boys Club court also proved problematic.
“We tried to get back into it, but we weren’t able to,” he said. “St. Francis is a good team and a well-coached team. We helped them out by not taking care of the ball.”
Patzlaff scored 16 points in the loss, while Kelley chipped in 13. Shooting proved to be a problem for the Wildcats in the game, as the team managed to hit only 32 percent of its shots.
Patzlaff was named to the All-Tournament Team at the conclusion of Custer’s game Saturday, after leading the Wildcats in scoring in three of the four games, averaging 20 points per game.
The team got its first win of the season Friday when Patzlaff and Kelley combined for 53 points in a 70-65 win over Standing Rock. Patzlaff’s day included five three-pointers, while Kelley hit four of his own. Milliken pulled down seven rebounds to lead the team.
Kelley said the game was one of best the team has played in the early season, and said the other Wildcats who fed the hot hands of Jace Kelley and Patzlaff deserve just as much credit for their efforts.
“The found them, got them the ball and executed on offense so those two could do what they did,” he said.
Custer got up big in the game but saw Standing Rock rally to tie the score at 60 with three minutes left in the game. With senior Reese Kelley out with an ankle injury and fellow senior Reed Ashmore fouled out, it was up to Patzlaff and freshmen and sophomores to close the game out.
“It was big everybody stepped up there,” Kelley said. “It’s nice to get that monkey off your back and get a win. I think they felt pretty good about themselves.”
On Thursday the team lost a close game to Omaha Nation 52-46. Patzlaff was the only player to score in double figures in the game, with 22 points. Milliken once again was the team’s leading rebounder with seven. The Wildcats struggled from the field in the game, shooting 33 percent, including an 18 percent effort from three-point range.
The game was a back-and-forth affair, with each team taking turns building a lead, only to see the other team come back. Kelley said the two teams were evenly matched, but it was ultimately the ’Cats’ poor shooting and costly turnovers that did them in.
“We (turned the ball over) right before the half to give them a six-point lead,” he said.
The team started the tournament Wednesday by losing to Cheyenne-Eagle Butte 48-38 despite leading 23-16 at halftime.
The team got off to as good a start as it could have dreamed of doing, as shooting was red-hot at the outset, with Jace Kelley hitting four three-pointers within the first six minutes of the game. Unfortunately, the hot shooting went away when Eagle-Butte switched to man defense in the second half and the Wildcats couldn’t generate any offense in the paint.
“You live by the three, you die by the three,” Kelley said. “We didn’t execute well.”
Kelley led the team with 14 points while Ashmore led the team with seven rebounds.
Despite the 1-3 record at the tournament, Kelley said he felt the team made progress last week, but lacked the mental toughness it needed to compete at the end of the tournament, particularly against St. Francis.
“It’s tough to get up for four games. I hate to keep coming back to the word inexperience,” he said. “But the kids showed they can compete and play with more experienced teams at the end of the day. That’s what we need to keep focusing on.”
The team will next be in action Dec. 28-29 when it heads to Chadron, Neb., to play in the Chadron Holiday Tournament on the campus of Chadron State College. The Wildcats will open the tournament Dec. 28 against Valentine, Neb., at 4 p.m. The games will take place at the Chicoine Center.