Iowa boys' state basketball: Waukee handles Johnston to win first state championship

Matthew Bain
Des Moines Register

If you had flashbacks to Waukee losing to heavy underdog Ankeny in last year's Class 4A final during the first half of this year's final, you weren't alone.

The members of Waukee's juggernaut roster had those same flashbacks Friday night when heavy underdog Johnston jumped out to a 10-point lead over the Warriors.

But as five-star sophomore Omaha Biliew said postgame, the Warriors decided to "write our own story" this year. And they did, thumping the Dragons in quarters three and four to win 61-50, claiming Waukee's first boys' basketball state title.

"I’m so proud of them. They’ve worked so hard," Waukee head coach Justin Ohl said. "Everyone thought this would be easy, right? 'Hey, you have really great players.' But it takes time. And with the season and the starts and stoppage, it took us a while to find a rhythm. But I felt like we kept getting closer, we kept playing the right way and it just started to click here in March."

Waukee celebrates its 61-50 win over Johnston to clinch the 4A state basketball championship game on Friday, March 12, 2021, in Des Moines, IA.

Waukee and its four Division I talents trailed 32-25 at halftime — a far cry from its 40-27 halftime lead it had over this same Johnston team in early February.

But, really, this wasn't the same Johnston team.

The fourth-seeded Dragons (12-5) looked every bit like a state title contender during its routs of Dowling Catholic and top-ranked and previously undefeated Cedar Falls in the quarterfinals and semifinals.

They delivered the first blow Friday against Waukee. They shot a blistering 58.3% in the first half, outscored Waukee 18-10 in the paint and outscored the Warriors 8-0 in second-chance opportunities.

"I thought in the first half we were really tentative," Waukee guard Tucker DeVries said. "We just weren’t playing really hard."

Different story in the second half.

Waukee shot 65% in the second half, while holding Johnston to just 29.6% while it outscored the Dragons 16-7 in the third quarter and 20-11 in the fourth.

DeVries, a Drake signee and the Register's No. 1 in-state 2021 prospect, led all scorers with 18 points, and he added six rebounds and four assists. Biliew logged 16 points, six rebounds and a pair of blocks. Iowa signee Payton Sandfort, the Register's No. 2 in-state 2021 prospect, logged 13 points and eight rebounds. And Malik Allen provided big minutes off the bench with 10 points and two 3-pointers, including one that gave Waukee the lead it would never relinquish in the third quarter.

Sandfort scored 11 of his 13 in the second half; DeVries scored 12 of his 18 in the second half.

More on Waukee's historic team:

"We got a lot of guys that just love to compete," Sandfort said. "It’s just our experience and our leadership. Me and Tucker have been here before. We’ve got a bunch of other seniors in that locker room. Pryce (Sandfort), even though he’s a sophomore, he’s been here. Omaha’s been down here. I think that experience, and just the way we bonded especially toward the end of the year, really pulled the whole thing together."

Steven Kramer led Johnston with his 16 points and eight rebounds; he was named captain of the all-tournament team. Payton Sandfort, DeVries, Biliew and Ames point guard Tamin Lipsey also made the team.

Johnston's Trey Lewis added 13 points and Carter Borwick had 11. Reid Grant logged three points and a game-high six assists for the Dragons.

Waukee's girls' basketball team also won the state title last week ... against Johnston.

Matthew Bain covers recruiting and pretty much anything else under the sports sun for the Des Moines Register and USA TODAY Network.  Contact him at mbain@dmreg.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.