High school boys basketball: Hamlin upsets Cossacks in first round of state tournament

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SIOUX FALLS – The Sioux Valley Cossacks got off to a great start but the Hamlin Chargers used an even better second half to defeat the Cossacks in the Class A Boys State Basketball Tournament at the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center on Thursday afternoon.

The Cossacks entered halftime with a 35-25 lead but the Chargers out-scored the Cossacks 21-8 in the third quarter and used a more aggressive approach to advance to Friday’s semifinal matchup against top-ranked Dakota Valley.

“I thought we got some great looks in the first half,” Sioux Valley head coach Bill Vincent said. “In the second half, we just lost our confidence and never really recovered.”

The first half was a dream for the Sioux Valley offense as several players were able to get to the rim. After taking a 17-13 lead into the second quarter, the Cossacks were shooting 67 percent from the floor en route to a 10-point lead at halftime.

Sioux Valley’s production dried up after halftime however, as the Chargers held the Cossacks without a point for the first 3:48 of the third quarter. The biggest difference was felt in the paint where Alec Squires scored nine points in the first half before being held to just one point in the second half.

“They were really physical with our bigs,” Bill Vincent said. “They wanted to limit those touches inside and wanted to spend some of those fouls on them so that we couldn’t get clean looks. That made it difficult for us to get points in the paint.”

By shutting down the Cossacks on the interior, Hamlin took its first lead since a 13-12 advantage late in the first quarter on Easton Neuendorf’s 3-pointer with 2:12 to go in the third quarter. After going into the fourth quarter with a 46-43 lead, the Chargers made it a point to get to the rim to tilt the game in their favor.

While Hamlin made eight 3-pointers to stay in the game in the first half, they needed 24 attempts to get them as they were settling for outside shots. After making the adjustment at halftime, the Chargers shot 46 percent in the third quarter and 83 percent in the fourth quarter while making their way to the free-throw line 20 times.

One of the main beneficiaries was Neuendorf, who scored 15 of his 22 points at the charity stripe. With Tyson Stevenson (19 points), Evan Stormo (12 points) and Brennan Keszler all scoring in double figures, the Chargers ran their lead up to as many as 10 points before Oliver Vincent tried to rally the Cossacks to victory.

With a game-high 31 points to go with six assists and four rebounds, Oliver Vincent cut the lead down to 69-63 with 21 seconds to go, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Chargers from advancing to the semifinals.

“We’ve just accustomed to knowing he’s going to come and perform every time out,” Bill Vincent said of Oliver Vincent’s performance. “When his back is against the wall, he’s trying to get his team into the final four and he’s going to go down swinging and that’s what he did tonight.”

The loss was disappointing for the Cossacks who had been runners-up in each of the past two state tournaments. It also was surprising for the Chargers, who snapped a 26-game losing streak against the Cossacks dating back to Jan. 2004 and were making their first appearance in the state tournament since 1994.

But it also gives the Cossacks a chance to finish the year strong. Sioux Valley will face Hot Springs in the consolation semifinals on Friday afternoon and while a state title is no longer a reality, Bill Vincent believes it’s an opportunity for his team in the final two games of the season.

“We knew we had a tough draw going into the tournament and the [No. 4 vs. No. 5] game is always a coin flip,” Bill Vincent said. “When you have two teams out of the same region and in the same conference, they’re going to know each other pretty well…but you also know that when you qualify and get through to the state tournament that there are three games remaining in your career. After Day 1, there’s two more days remaining and that’s a good feeling to know that you get to take these guys out to battle a couple more times and have them perform."