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Damon Wilkinson’s interior dominance leads De Smet to back-to-back state titles in Class B

Wilkinson’s dominant season was capped with a 19-point, 23-rebound performance in the Class B state tournament championship

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De Smet's Damon Wilkinson passes out of a double team in the boys Class B state tournament championship game against Lower Brule on Saturday, March 19, 2022 at the Barnett Center in Aberdeen.
South Dakota Public Broadcasting photo

ABERDEEN – It was a mismatch all tournament long for De Smet’s 6-foot-9 center Damon Wilkinson.

Entering each contest taller than his opponent, Wilkinson dominated his matchup averaging 18 points and 13 rebounds through the three games, helping for the Bulldogs to hoist the Class B state tournament trophy for the second consecutive year.

In the championship game, facing a Lower Brule team without a player taller than 6-foot-2, Wilkinson came in expecting low post touches on almost every possession. The junior scored six of De Smet’s first 10 points and had a 10-point, 13-rebound double-double at halftime. The plan worked to fruition for the Bulldogs as they led by four at the start of the third quarter, only to expand that lead to 20 points and win 49-26.

“We thought we could get in there to Damon and we knew that would really set a tone,” De Smet head coach Jeff Gruenhagen said. “It’s always get the ball in the paint, kick it out and shoot it. With Damon, we wanted to make sure he got touches to shrink that zone and alleviate some pressure.”

After keeping pace with De Smet in the first half, Lower Brule struggled offensively in the second half. The Sioux only scored five points in the third quarter, went scoreless in the fourth quarter and shot 2-for-24 from the field as a team in the second half.

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For De Smet, Wilkinson posted the game-high in points in each of the three games. He was the only Bulldog to finish with double-digit points in the championship game, scoring 19 on 9-of-16 shooting and snatching 23 rebounds, 15 on the offensive end.

He entered the season scoring 14 points and grabbing 8.3 points per game, while shooting nearly 57% from the field, but Wilkinson's state tournament played out much like his season: with his opponents having few answers for his size.

“It’s nice to be taller than them, I could tell it was affecting their game plan,” Wilkinson said about Lower Brule struggling in the second half.

Wilkinson’s inside presence essentially made Lower Brule run a half-court offense for most of the game. Even though De Smet’s game plan was to get inside touches to lead to easy 3-pointer opportunities, they shot 2-of-19 from behind the arc.

Senior guard Kalen Garry said shots weren’t falling for the team, but it’s other ways to impact the game and Wilkinson’s performance proved to be the biggest difference.

“Shots weren’t falling for me and I had to find different ways to impact the game but Damon led us tonight,” Garry said. “I just want him to dominate the glass every time like tonight because when he gets the ball in the paint, there's a good chance it’s going in the basket. He just keeps progressing as a player and his future is so bright.”

Branden is a sports reporter that graduated from Purdue University Northwest with a bachelor's degree in communications and a focus in journalism. He joined the Mitchell Republic in June 2021 and covers prep and collegiate athletics. He was also the lead on the Mitchell Republic Full-Court Press, providing a weekly web-exclusive look at high school basketball throughout all of South Dakota. Branden can be reached at bhull@mitchellrepublic.com and found on Twitter at @bhullreports.
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