Meskwaki Warriors’ way stops Spartans
STATE CENTER — The minute you take a bad shot or commit an uncharacteristic turnover, the Meskwaki boys’ basketball team has successfully made you play the Warriors’ way.
For the 15th game in a row, that meant a Meskwaki victory.
The Warriors hurried Grundy Center out of its traditional style of play and made their way through the Class 1A District 10 finals, stopping the Spartans 64-54 on Tuesday night at West Marshall High School.
Playing in their third district final in head coach Garrett Bear’s fourth season, Meskwaki (20-3) finally broke through by turning over Grundy Center (16-6) too many times for the cold-shooting Spartans to atone for.
The Warriors forced 14 turnovers, including nine in a pivotal first half that saw them jump out to a 15-7 first-quarter advantage and a 29-19 halftime lead. The double-digit cushion dipped below 10 a time or two, but Grundy Center got no closer than eight in the final period.
Meskwaki will meet top-ranked North Linn (24-0) in Saturday’s Substate 5 championship game with a state tournament berth on the line. The location of that game has not yet been announced, but the Warriors would be willing to venture anywhere for the opportunity to clinch a spot at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
“I have confidence in us over anyone,” said Meskwaki senior point guard Taurice Grant. “We’re always the underdogs here, but we’ve got the fight and I believe in us all the way.”
Aside from Grundy Center getting the opening basket, it went the Warriors’ way for most of the game. Grant, Tiernan Wanatee and Osceola Tyon each scored five points and helped to create five Spartan turnovers in a 15-7 first-quarter lead.
Even when Wanatee, the only “big man” on Meskwaki’s roster, went to the bench with two fouls, the Warriors still gained an advantage. Senior sixth-man Bishop Chavez made an instant impact on both ends of the court by blocking shots, forcing steals and scoring six-straight points to help his team open up a double-digit lead.
“Bishop is lengthy and has good timing on the blocks, he’s been like that all season,” said Bear. “He uses his length really well. He hit a couple shots too. He contributed on both sides and that’s what we expect out of our bench.
“We tell them to be engaged and you just never know when it’s your turn, and at this level you can’t ease into games, you’ve got to be ready to go.”
Grundy Center’s size advantage didn’t get the desired result, so the Spartans tried to balance things out from beyond the arc. But the shots weren’t falling for junior guard Brayden Sawyer, the Spartans’ leading 3-point shooter, and the Warriors eventually pulled ahead by as many as 17 points.
“We knew if we played a half-court game they were just going to pound it inside,” Bear said. “They’ve obviously got size on us, and not only in the bigs but you can tell they get into the weight room. [Our gameplan] was to play at a faster pace and pressure them. We didn’t get as many turnovers as we’d like but we did speed them up, and I think it forced them into shots they wouldn’t normally take.
“At this level you’re going to make plays and you’re going to miss plays, but it’s the teams that continue to persevere that eventually win more times than not.”
Meskwaki called off its three-quarter court zone pressure for a portion of the third quarter, but went back to it by the time the fourth period rolled around. Protecting a 13-point lead, the Warriors needed to make enough free throws to outlast the district’s top-seeded team and advance farther than ever before.
The Warriors shot 13-for-20 from the line in the game, and their 10-for-15 effort in the fourth quarter proved effective enough.
“It was really hard (to slow it down),” Grant said. “We want to go, go, go, especially in an environment like we had here today. Everybody was here, it was hard hearing Joe across the gym and everybody’s yelling, but I’ve been in enough games in this situation that I feel like I can control anything.”
Grundy Center won the fourth quarter, 25-20, but the deficit was far too much for the Spartans to overcome. Dayne Zinkula led the team with 15 points, Wes Willis had 12 and Zach Opheim added 10.
Tyon, who went 4-for-4 at the free-throw line, finished with a game-high 17 points to lead Meskwaki. Grant and Wanatee had 12 points apiece, Evan Nelson finished with nine, Larnell Bear tallied eight and Chavez scored a quick six.
“We’ve been [in the district finals] three times and we finally got one,” coach Bear said. “Third time’s a charm. It does feel good. It just means we’re consistent in our program and obviously we’re trying to take that next step which we did tonight.
“Now we’ve got a big, tough team ahead of us, but we’re not backing down for anybody. We’re here to compete and that’s what we intend to do. You have to take it as a challenge. At some point if you want to win it all, you’ve got to beat the best teams and North Linn has consistently been one of the best teams so you’ve got to accept the challenge and play the game.”
Meskwaki 64, Grundy Center 54
MESKWAKI (20-3) — Osceola Tyon 5 4-4- 17, Larnell Beear 2 4-6 8, Taurice Grant 4 4-9 12, Evan Nelson 4 0-0 9, Tiernan Wanatee 5 0-0 12, Kallan White Eyes 0 0-0 0, Bishop Chavez 2 1-1 6. TOTALS 22 13-20 64.
GRUNDY CENTER (16-6) — Dayne Zinkula 7 0-0 15, Zach Opheim 1 0-0 3, Brayden Sawyer 0 3-4 3, Nick Ascher 2 0-2 4, Wes Willis 4 4-7 12, Cole Lehr 0 0-0 0, Dexter Whitehill 4 1-2 10, Logan Knaack 0 1-2 1, Bryce Greiner 2 0-0 6. TOTALS 20 9-17 54.
MESKWAKI 15 14 13 22 — 64
GRUNDY CTR 7 12 10 25 — 54
3-Point Goals-Meskwaki 7 (Tyon 3, Wanatee 2, Nelson, Chavez), GC 5 (Greiner 2, Zinkula, Whitehill, Opheim). Team Fouls-Meskwaki 15, GC 19. Fouled out-none.