The Waukee boys’ basketball team went into Tuesday night’s State Basketball Tournament looking for its first every State Tournament win in its seventh appearance at the Tournament. The Warriors went on to prove that seven was the magic number with a win over the Johnston Dragons in the first round, holding them off for a 60-58 victory at Wells Fargo Arena.
“I’m really just proud of the kids and everybody in the program, and everybody that’s ever been a part of our program because this is for them,” said Waukee coach Justin Ohl. “We’ve had a lot of really good players come through.”
Waukee’s Dylan Jones, who led the Warriors with a double-double against the Dragons, said it was great to get the first State Tournament win in school history.
“The fact that we could bring that to Waukee, our names will forever be in history,” Jones said.
The Warriors and the Dragons were close going into the fourth quarter, with the score favoring the Warriors 37-35 before the Warriors broke the game open in the final frame. The Warriors led by as much as 10 in the final five minutes of the game, but had to hold off a Dragons comeback, who brought the game to within two points with under five seconds to go.
With the Dragons on the rise late in the fourth quarter, Ohl said he found himself hoping for just one more stop by the Warriors, or one more miss by the Dragons.
“We got them to miss but we couldn’t get a rebound,” Ohl said. “Credit (to) them (Johnston). Every shot they needed to make, they made, and so we hit some good free throws and we finally got them to miss and were fortunate to get out of here.”
The Warriors bested the Dragons on field goal attempts, making 20-of-42 shots (47.6 percent) while the Dragons went 19-of-44 (43.2 percent) from the field. The Dragons held the edge from beyond the arc, connecting on 8-of-18 shots (44.4 percent) while the Warriors made 5-of-12 (41.7 percent) from beyond the arc.
Jones was 5-of-7 from the field, including 1-of-3 from long range for 11 points and 13 rebounds, recording a double-double for the Warriors.
“They’re great defensively,” Jones said after the game. “I just feel like we’re all very skilled and eventually there will be mismatches when you move the ball, so if we can find those mismatches we can exploit them.”
Waukee’s Nathan Johnson posted a team-high 18 points in the game, going 7-of-14 from the floor. Noah Hart hit on 2-of-3 treys, helping him to record 15 points while adding six assists and two steals for the Warriors, while Jaxx Rittman also posted 11 points in the game.
The Dragons took a 27-25 advantage on the boards, but bested the Dragons in assists (13-8) and steals (4-2) while also winning the turnover battle, turning the ball over just seven times while the Dragons committed eight turnovers.
Johnston’s Boston Grimes was on fire in the losing effort, goin 9-of-15 from the floor, including 2-of-4 from 3-point range and a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line for a game-high 28 points. He also grabbed six rebounds, dished out five assists and recorded two steals, but turned the ball over three times.
Bo Sandquist, of Johnston, recorded 17 points and four rebounds for the Dragons. Camden Vander Zwaag was hit with the turnover bug, committing four of Johnston’s eight turnovers in the game.
The Warriors have a day in between their first round game and the semifinals, where they will take on Iowa City West on Thursday. Iowa City West took down Muscatine in their first round matchup on Tuesday night by a score of 62-50, despite seeing a 29-20 halftime lead dissolve into a 38-37 edge after the third quarter.
“Obviously, Iowa City West is a tremendous program,” Ohl said. “We’ve seen them down here (at the State Tournament) a bunch, so we’ve got to just get back and watch some film and get an idea from there.”
The Warriors and the Trojans of Iowa City West will tip off in their State Semifinal game at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena.