DES MOINES — The opponent was too big, too athletic, too fast, too good.
So the Alburnett Pirates settle for silver, with settling not really being the most appropriate word choice. These guys had the best two basketball weeks of their lives and flat-out earned a second-place finish at the state tournament.
No one would have thought that was remotely possible when they were down 18 points in the third quarter of their district final, but they rallied and won in overtime, then won their substate final in overtime, too. Their first two state tourney games were secured on last-second shots.
This was house money, and Alburnett played it into millions. And a lifetime of memories.
“It has been nuts,” Alburnett’s Hunter Caves said, after Grand View Christian three-peated in 1A with a 43-24 championship game win Friday afternoon at Wells Fargo Arena. “There are no words for it. Just crazy ... We did everything we could. It can’t get much better than this. It’s unreal.”
“I always thought we had a chance (to do this), but it was a longshot,” said Alburnett’s Shane Neighbor. “From districts, being down that much, we weren’t even supposed to make it through that. But we pushed through it, fought together and made it this far.”
This was the first boys’ state basketball tournament appearance for Alburnett (20-6), and it lasted a full week. The team was even honored with a standing ovation by lawmakers Thursday when it visited the state capital.
Coach Jeff Christopherson’s 25th year as head coach was something, and he appreciated every second of it.
“They’re taking this loss pretty tough, which they should,” Christopherson said. “But I think when they have time to kind of fall back and look at it, they’ll look at it a little differently. When they see the two banners up on the wall and the trophy in the trophy case, it’ll finally hit them, and it’ll hit me ... Nobody put us in the equation. We just kind of fought our way through the whole year. They don’t have a ‘quit’ thing in them.”
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Grand View Christian (26-1) has exquisite 6-foot-7 international talents in Issa Samake and Harouna Sissoko, as well as a very fine 6-4 forward in Arturo Montes. Its lone loss was to Class 4A state tournament participant Iowa City West.
So knowing his team was outmanned and putting the under in underdog, Christopherson employed a strategy of delaying with the basketball in order to shorten the game as much as possible. Shot-clock supporters certainly were shouting their dismay in unison.
Alburnett didn’t really look at many shots, especially in the first half, and the ones they ended up taking did not go in. The Pirates were 1 for 12 from the field, with only Neighbor having a make.
The other four points in a 14-6 halftime games came courtesy of Austin Huber on free throws. The 23 total points were the fewest in a title game since 1947, when Sioux City Central scored 23 against Davenport in a one-class event.
Grand View Christian finally was able to get out in transition in the second half, putting the game away.
“I thought our defense was good in the first half. We were just 1 of 12,” Christopherson said. “If we could have gotten two or three more of those shots to go down for us, then it’s a little closer ballgame. But they’re a good basketball team. We knew we were going to have to change some things to have a chance to beat them. We did a nice job of slowing them down and taking opportunities away from them.”
Samake was named the 1A all-tournament captain, scoring nine points and hauling down 11 rebounds here. Sissoko was the only player in this game with double-figure points (10).
Caves had eight points and Neighbor seven for Alburnett. Caves and center Izic Mackey were also named all-tournament, as was GVC’s Montes and Montezuma’s Trey Shearer, whose team finished fourth here.
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“Our team has really bonded very well,” Neighbor said. “It’s really fun being around everybody. We were in each other’s (hotel) rooms every night this week. We were just playing together on the court, and that really got us a long way.”
AT WELLS FARGO ARENA
ALBURNETT (24): Jared Graubard 0-3 0-0 0, Shane Neighbor 3-9 1-1 7, Izic Mackey 0-4 0-0 0, Austin Huber 0-2 4-4 4, Hunter Caves 3-10 2-4 8, Keenan Rose 0-2 0-0 0, Reed Stallman 0-0 1-4 1, Luke Neighbor 0-0 0-1 0, Jordan Balderston 0-0 0-0 0, Grant Soukup 1-1 0-0 2, Sam Fulk 1-1 0-0 2, Blake Spersflage 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 8-33 8-14 24.
GRAND VIEW CHRISTIAN (43): Arturo Montes 2-9, Harouna Sissoko 4-6 2-3 10, Issa Samake 4-10 0-0 11, Kong Neyail 1-2 1-2 3, Bryce Crabb 3-3 2-2 8, Andrew Gatto 0-1 0-0 0, Andrew Long 1-2 0-0 3, Gage Fry 1-1 0-0 3, Jack Seyler 0-0 0-0 0, Jonny Gotto 0-0 0-0 0, Alandis Arrasmith 0-0 0-0 0, Austin Tarbell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-35 7-11 43.
Halftime — Grand View Christian 14, Alburnett 6. 3-point goals — Alburnett 0-7 (Graubard 0-1, Mackey 0-2, Huber 0-2, S. Neighbor 0-1, Spersflage 0-1), Grand View Christian 4-10 (Samake 1-3, Montes 1-5, Long 1-1, Fry 1-1). Rebounds — Alburnett 20 (Caves 8), Grand View Christian 27 (Samake 11). Total fouls — Alburnett 7, Grand View Christian 16. Fouled out — None. Assists — Alburnett 2 (Graubard, Rose 1), Grand View Christian 9 (Samake 3). Turnovers — Alburnett 15, Grand View Christian 14.
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