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DEAL: The best moments of a shortened basketball season

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White River coach Eldon Marshall, foreground, celebrates after the team won its SoDak 16 game on March 10 in Fort Pierre.

The 2019-20 South Dakota high school basketball season ended with the ultimate thud.

It was officially canceled on Monday due to the COVID-19 pandemic, crushing the state tournament dreams for hundreds of players.

We usually never want March to end. We’re hopping from gym-to-gym, going 100 miles an hour and running on adrenaline. But March 2020 is one we will never forget and for all the wrong reasons.

The best time of the year was snatched away from us in unprecedented fashion. It’s devastating. It’s disappointing. It’s downright heartbreaking.

But we’re still going to celebrate. This column has become an annual tradition and is meant to remember the best moments and the highs of another fun-filled season.

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Despite the abrupt end right in the heart of tournament time, that’s exactly what we are going to do. So here’s a look back at some of the best moments of the 2019-20 South Dakota high school basketball season:

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Dakota Valley's Paul Bruns attacks the basket against Mount Vernon/Plankinton earlier this season at the Parkston Classic.

Best individual performance: Dakota Valley all-stater Paul Bruns can fill it up. The 6-foot-4 junior guard posted monster double-doubles all season, including a 44-point and 18-rebound game against Canton on Dec. 20. It broke his own school record for most points in a game. He finished 16 of 32 from the field, 4 of 7 from the 3-point line and 8 of 11 at the free-throw line. The Class A player of the year averaged 29 points and 12.7 rebounds per game this season. Bruns, who also scored his 1,000th career point this year, has scholarship offers from Augustana University, University of Sioux Falls and the University of North Dakota.

Best game: No. 11 Faith outlasted No. 6 Marty, 81-76, in double overtime in a Class B boys SoDak 16 thriller on March 10 in Chamberlain. In a tightly-contested battle throughout, the Braves pulled away 61-51 with under 5 1/2 minutes left. But Marty couldn’t close it out as Faith forced overtime tied at 66. It was knotted up at 73 after the first overtime and Faith outscored Marty 8-3 in the final 4 minutes to earn the marathon win. Harland Groves paced Faith with 30 points, while Tyson Selby put in 27 points and hit four 3-pointers. Torrey Bohannon and Xavier Hare scored 19 and 16 points, respectively.

Best upset: The Crow Creek girls were No. 5 in the final South Dakota Prep Media poll and No. 3 in the Class A SoDak 16. The Chieftains were 19-2 and had rolled to a 76-48 win over Hill City on Feb. 15. The 14th-seeded Rangers exacted the ultimate measure of revenge and stunned the Chieftains, 45-43. It was Hill City’s first time qualifying for the state tournament since 1997. Hailey Wathen scored nine points and Macey Wathen chipped in eight points for Hill City. Crow Creek’s Kaylee Wells led all scorers with 19 points. Haley Langdeau finished with 12 points.

Best quote: The White River boys basketball team advanced to its 15th straight State B boys basketball tournament with a 59-46 win over Lyman on March 10. White River coach Eldon Marshall called a timeout in the waning seconds and his message was simple: enjoy it.

“I just told them to enjoy it, man. It’s been a grind,” he said. “There’s been a lot of pressure put on them and it’s tough whenever you are expected to go back year after year. I was like ‘Let’s enjoy it and you guys earned it.’ I thought we did. When the buzzer went off, we were jumping up and down. It was great.”

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Best moment: It was a season for the ages for the Aberdeen Christian boys basketball team. The Knights qualified for the state tournament for the first time in school history. Point guard Andrew Rohrbach was Aberdeen Christian’s first-ever Class B all-state first-team selection.

But it was during the JV game against Langford Area on Feb. 18 that captured the attention of people across the nation. In the closing seconds, Langford Area put in senior guard No. 50 Gabe Smith, who has Down syndrome. Smith misfired on his first 3-point attempt, but Aberdeen Christian’s Garrett Pearson handed the ball back to Smith and he drained a 3-pointer as time expired. The moment was captured on video by Aberdeen Christian coach David Rohrbach and it compiled more than 458,000 views on Twitter, while it was picked up by multiple local and national media outlets.

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Fans packed Fort Pierre's Parkview gymnasium for a SoDak 16 boys basketball doubleheader on March 10.

Best atmosphere: State tournaments are the best. But the atmosphere at the SoDak 16 state-tournament qualifying games are just as good. There’s so much buzz and tension in the air as it’s win or go home. The SoDak 16 boys basketball doubleheader in Fort Pierre was no different as four Class B communities crammed into Parkview Gymnasium on March 10.

Platte-Geddes edged Timber Lake, while White River held off Lyman in the doubleheader. Stanley County Athletics Director Kelcy Nash said more than 1,400 tickets were sold that night. It ended up being the final night of the 2019-20 South Dakota high school boys basketball season.

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We wish now the night never ended.

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