DES MOINES — The kid with the size, athletic ability and highest upside was the separator.
Issa Samake was the difference Friday afternoon between Grand View Christian winning and not winning a second consecutive Class 1A boys’ state basketball championship. And North Linn not quite completing a special, undefeated season.
“We are 25 points better without Samake,” Co-Coach Mike Hilmer said, bluntly, after his team’s 49-46 title-game loss.
A 6-foot-7 junior from Mali with an enormous wingspan, Samake scored 12 points, had 18 rebounds and four blocked shots. All five of his field goals were dunks, three down the stretch in the fourth quarter that included an absurd reverse on a lob pass from teammate Arturo Montes that gave GVC a two-possesion lead of 44-40 with about 2 1/2 minutes left.
“My teammates trust me, so I just do that,” Samake said, with a smile. “The whole team was hyped after that.”
Iowa State has offered the still raw kid, who moved to Des Moines from Tennessee with a family from the United States that first met him on a missionary trip to Africa. He sat out 90 days, per Iowa High School Athletic Association rules, and this was his 15th game with the Thunder.
His physical presence prevented North Linn from doing a lot of the things offensively and defensively that made it so dominant this season.
“Samake, we couldn’t do anything about him,” said North Linn’s David Seber. “He’s 6-7, 6-8, taller than us.”
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“He’s one heck of a player, a Division I player, no question. He’s going to be a good Division I player,” Hilmer said. “It is what it is. He played a great ballgame. Without him on the floor, for one, we could extend our pressure (defense) a little bit more. We’re going to get to the rim and score more points, too. So, in my opinion, from last year to this year, he’s definitely the difference in them winning that basketball game.”
North Linn (28-1) threw a really good first punch in this one, scoring the first eight points. A Samake lob dunk opened the scoring for Grand View (25-1), which recovered and took a 14-12 lead after a quarter.
This wasn’t the game many expected, considering North Linn came in averaging 91.5 points and GVC 75.4. The Thunder did not want to make it an up-and-down affair, and it definitely wasn’t.
A Grant DeMeulenaere 3-pointer put GVC on top early in the fourth, 35-32, and the Thunder never gave up that lead, even though it was never that big. DeMeulenaere finished with a game-high 21 points.
North Linn just could not get over the hump offensively, making just 31.9 percent of its shots. With Samake guarding the paint, the Lynx were forced to shoot from the outside, and they went 2 for 18 from 3-point land.
Jake Hilmer had 17 points to pace NL and Ryan Miller 15.
“We were getting what we wanted on the outside,” Miller said. “It’s just one of those unfortunate things about basketball. You can be as wide open as you want, and sometimes the ball just won’t go into the hoop.”
A Samake transition dunk with 43.7 seconds left put Grand View ahead, 47-42. Hilmer made two free throws, North Linn got a turnover, and Hilmer sank two more to make it 47-46 with 31.5 to go.
DeMeulenaere made two free throws with 30.0 left, and Samake blocked an Adam Waskow layup attempt. Two missed GVC free throws allowed North Linn a chance to tie, but Miller missed a highly-contested 3-pointer with five seconds left, the ball ending up out of bounds.
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GVC attempted a home-run pass off an inbounds play with two seconds left, giving North Linn one final gasp. But Miller missed a fading 3 attempt from the deep corner, and that was it.
“Our defense, we held them to, what, 49? If you hold a team to 49 points, we’re going to win that ballgame,” Miller said. “But that’s a credit to how good their defense was, how big of a difference maker Samake was down in the middle. We weren’t able to the rim as much as we wanted to.”
“We took every last minute of what they (had) over there,” Jake Hilmer said. “I wouldn’t want to trade in any state titles for what I have with these guys. What we have is special. It didn’t work tonight, but I know in two months, I’ll be hanging out with (these) guys shooting hoops. These are my guys, and I’m happy to be with them.”
AT DES MOINES
GRAND VIEW CHRISTIAN (49): Arturo Montes 2-5 3-6 7, Issa Samake 5-10 2-3 12, Mach Nyaw 1-9 1-2 4, Grant DeMeulenaere 7-15 4-4 21, Bryce Crabb 1-4 0-0 2, Sam Glenn 1-2 0-0 3, Kong Neyail 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-45 10-17 49.
NORTH LINN (46): Trevor Boge 2-7 0-0 4, Adam Waskow 1-4 1-2 3, Ryan Miller 6-16 2-2 15, Jake Hilmer 3-11 11-11 17, David Seber 2-8 0-0 5, Austin Miller 0-0 0-0 0, Brad Pflughaupt 0-0 0-0 0, Carter Johnson 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 15-47 14-15 46.
Halftime — North Linn 19, Grand View 18. 3-point goals — Grand View 5-15 (Nyaw 1-6, DeMeulenaere 3-6, Crabb 0-1, Glenn 1-2), North Linn 2-18 (Hilmer 0-1, Seber 1-7, R. Miller 1-9, Boge 0-1). Rebounds — Grand View 39 (Samake 18), North Linn 25 (Hilmer, Boge, Waskow 6). Total fouls — Grand View 15, North Linn 16. Fouled out — Hilmer. Assists — Grand View 9 (Nyaw 4), North Linn 9 (Hilmer 6). Turnovers — Grand View 17, North Linn 10.
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