DES MOINES - Whenever there's thunder, lightning will follow. On Thursday night, Grand View Christian was both loud and flashy.
In a barrage of offensive attacks and relentless defense, the No. 2 Grand View Christian boys' basketball team lit up the fourth-ranked Rebels and secured its first state title in any sport with a 61-50 victory in the Class 1A championship at Wells Fargo Arena on Friday night.
Grant DeMeulenaere went for 17 points and led the Thunder (27-1) to the state title. The Rebels were led by Joe Smoldt with 25 points, and he was named as the Class 1A all-tournament captain for the third consecutive year. He is one of 12 players to be on three all-tournament teams.
The Gladbrook-Reinbeck boys’ basketball team poses with its Class 1A boys’ state basketball runner-up banner after Friday’s 61-50 loss to Grand View Christian in the championship game at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. The Rebels completed their third-straight trip to state with another trophy, having finished first in 2015 and fourth in 2016.
Photo by Adam Ring
The Thunder were boisterous in their defense, forcing nine turnovers (six in the first half) on the Rebels, something G-R had trouble with throughout Thursday's semifinal win against North Linn. GVC made the Rebels pay with 15 points off their miscues.
It was all Thunder, wire to wire, after jumping out to a 19-2 first-quarter lead. By halftime, they extended it to 32-17, including a 21-point lead midway through the second period.
"They put two or three guys on Joe right off the start," said G-R head coach Scott Kiburis. "We knew they would come at him and there's just different ways [they could] do that we've seen. We've seen it in the past, but this time they were very quick and instinctive. That 17-2 run to start the game was the difference. From that point on, we played right with them and adjusted to that strategy."
The Rebels went on to outscore the Thunder 15-13, 16-14 and 17-15 in the final three quarters. But the first-quarter deficit was too much to overcome.
Yet with 19 seconds left in the third quarter, Smoldt finally took over like he had all year long.
With back-to-back 3-pointers, the G-R senior brought the game to within 10 points for the first time since the Thunder led 10-0.
"Down 15 at halftime, we knew we had a run in us," Smoldt said. "When I hit those two 3s when we hit a couple shots, they just answered. You've got to give credit to them. They played really well and are obviously the best team in the state."
The Thunder answered with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer of their own to retain a 13-point lead heading into the final quarter.
The Thunder controlled the pace of play with two very different styles of offense throughout the game.
In the first half, it was a speedy, run-and-shoot offense that worked well, going 14-for-28 from the floor. They took nine more shots than G-R (5-for-19) and cashed in on the turnovers.
In the second half, it was the slowed-down, hold-the-ball pace; a playing-not-to-lose kind of offense, something the Thunder were willing to risk to hold on for the win.
"They're a great defensive team," said GVC head coach Dave Stubbs. "We thought we could get to the rim, get some easy looks, get some fouls and move the ball; keep them working on defense side to side. We thought we could spread the floor and gets some easy buckets out of them."
The Thunder shot just 8-for-16 in the second half, running their conservative offense. They finished 50 percent from the field (22-for-44) while the Rebels were just 31.7 percent on 13-for-41 shooting.
"In the championship game, you have so many stoppages," Kiburis said. "You have the two media timeouts, but still we were playing defense for a long period of time. These guys were running after them. Their two guards were really good at handling off the ball. Their other kids, [Stephen] Glenn was really good at relieving pressure and getting the ball back. They were playing for a championship, they're an intelligent group."
GVC's aggressive nature on defense forced the Rebels to be careless with the ball, but it also caught up to the Thunder on fouls. With 3:19 left in the third quarter, the Thunder picked up their seventh team foul, sending the Rebels to the free-throw line with a bonus from there on out.
Fortunately for Grand View Christian, the Rebels were less than their team free-throw shooting average on the season of 69.5 percent, and shot 19-for-28 from the line (67.9 percent).
The game was highly competitive for three quarters and saw the Rebels attempt to claw their way back out of the deep first-quarter deficit. G-R cashed in on 4-of-8 3-pointers in the second half after starting 1-for-8. Smoldt found 22 of his 25 points in the second half, while going 11-for-14 from the free-throw line.
But for a senior group that has a 100-10 record during the course of four years, there's something to be said about the small-town school out of the Gladbrook-Reinbeck communities.
"Coming to Wells Fargo three times and the UNI-Dome three times, it's great," said senior Matt Roeding. "The state really rewards us by us doing well by putting us on the biggest stage and helping us broadcast ourselves. It's a blast coming out here and going to the Dome.
"It's been one of the best weeks of my life. I just filled out my senior spotlight and put in coming down here and playing for state championships has been my favorite part of my high school career."
The Thunder finish the 2016-17 season on a 27-game win streak, after falling in their first game of the year to Class 3A No. 3 Pella. The Rebels had two losses coming in, both to 2A schools, but suffered their first loss to a 1A opponent since the third-place consolation match in last year's state tournament.
The Rebels have now finished first, fourth and second at state in the last three years.