Pine Ridge’s Cecil Apple goes up between defenders (l to r) Joe Brandis and Jadice Morrison. Photo by James Giago Davies
National | Sports

Native Sun News Today: Lakota Nation Invitational ends with overtime thriller

White River takes LNI title in OT thriller

Iyotte has big game for Tigers
By James Giago Davies
Native Sun News Today Correspondent

RAPID CITY—“We thought we could jump on them and get them spooked,” Crow Creek Head Coach Billy Jo Sazue said about Eldon Marshall’s White River Tigers. “But they came out and busted us right in the nose.”

Tyson Iyotte had 21 points in the first half for the Tigers, as they led 33-16 at the half, and although they were outscored 53-40 in the second half by the Chieftains, and the game went into overtime, White River held on to win their fourth Lakota Nation Invitational championship, 73-69.

The Tigers have made the LNI final seven of the last nine years. After the game, both teams were in tears; the Tigers because none of these players had ever played on a championship team, and the Chieftains because they had come so close to winning it all, rallying from a 19-point deficit, to tie it up and force the overtime.

It was good to have a nail-biter final, after two years of unprecedented dominance by Winnebago, unprecedented not in the number of wins or margin of victory, but in the level of play—no LNI team has ever played better basketball. Instead, ‘Bago stayed home in Nebraska, and went down and played Omaha South, a team that would be rated Class AAA if they played in South Dakota, and the defending LNI champs beat Omaha South, 62-58, even without David Wingett.

But the failure of Winnebago to return and defend their title, opened up the draw to some of the most exciting basketball fans have witnessed in years. White River almost didn’t make the final, locked in a titanic test of wills with Lower Brule in the second round. The Tigers struggled in the first half against Yamni Jack’s scrappy Kul Wicasa, but eventually built a ten-point lead, and seemed ready to close out Lower Brule, but the Sioux rallied, and all but erased the deficit.

The final regulation buzzer went off, and White River had won by a point, except they hadn’t—Lower Brule’s Shane Sazue was fouled. He was sent to the line, no time on the clock, to shoot two. Marshall was well out of his coaching box, and who wouldn’t be given that turn of events, but assistant coach Jared Bouman saved the day, redirecting Marshall back to safety, before Sazue could get two more free throws courtesy of a technical foul. Sazue’s first free throw tied it up. The second was for the win, and the tension in the LNI air was as strained as it has ever been. The flight of the free throw seemed fated to find the hole, but it clanked to the right and fell away. Overtime. White River prevailed in OT, 69-57.

“There are so many things that could have gone either way (in that game),’ Marshall said. “I felt like that helped us for this game (the championship).”

Crow Creek had arrived in Rapid City with convincing wins over Flandreau Indian and Little Wound. They defeated Crazy Horse in their LNI opener, 74-39, turned back Tiospa Zina, 67-47, and made the championship tilt with an impressive 72-45 win over McLaughlin.

Crow Creek’s Josiah Blue Arm eyes the basketball through the netting. Behind him is John Petrik of White River. Photo by James Giago Davies

White River opened the season with their customary dismantling of closest rival, Jones County, 82-43. They had no trouble with their first LNI opponent, Standing Rock, cruising to a 74-48 win. Next came the OT fate-cheating defeat of Lower Brule, which set up a semi-final match with Corey Shangreaux’s Pine Ridge Thorpes, the NSNT pick to win it all. So much for prognostication, as the Tigers got revenge for last year’s loss to Pine Ridge by controlling the game from pillar to post, enroute to a 61-52 win.

Play was sloppy in the first few minutes of the championship game. Tiger point guard Donnie Yackley missed four lay-ups. Jadice Morrison drew first blood for White River with a bucket, 2-0, but Jayden McBride responded with back-to-back buckets, following a steal and a lay-up, and Crow Creek was on top, 4-2. That was when Iyotte began his 21-point outburst. Nick Sayler stole the ball for White River, fed it to Iyotte, who drained a three, and White River was on top, 5-4. After a lot of misses and passes and more misses, Luke Wells scored to put Crow Creek up, 6-5.

People wondered before the tournament who would step up and provide the leadership on the floor the Tigers needed after losing Justice Morrison to graduation last year, and as it turned out, no single Tiger stepped up—they all stepped up, and Kul Wicasa found itself battling a team dialed in, all the parts humming in unison. Jadice Morrison hit a three, and it was 8-6, White River. Iyotte stole the ball, passed it to Yackley, and his fifth try at a lay-up paid off with two, 10-6, Tigers.

Iyotte continued to pour it on, and when he hit a three from the top of the key, it was 17-8. That margin wasn’t altered much by the half, White River on top, 33-16.

A minute into the second half, Joe Sazue missed a shot, and Yackley took off up-court with the ball for a lay-up, and White River had the biggest lead it would enjoy that night, 37-18. When Iyotte was helped off the floor with an injury, it was 44-28, White River, 12:10 left to play. After Iyotte came back at the 9:35 mark, it was 45-38, and Crow Creek had outscored the Tigers, 10-1 in his absence.

Whatever magic Iyotte had early on, it was no longer his to command, and Crow Creek incrementally picked at the lead, behind the scoring of Sazue and Wells, and it was Sazue who finally knotted it all up at 61-61, with 4.9 seconds remaining. Yackley fouled out of the game. Crow Creek called a time out, and when the players returned, Luke Wells fouled out of the game, sending John Petrik to the line for the win. Petrik missed both free throws and Sazue launched a buzzer beater that missed the mark forcing the 4:00 overtime.

Petrik opened the overtime by fouling Sazue, and Sazue hit both free throws, and Crow Creek finally led, 63-61. Teron Sazue then went to the line for White River and tied it up, 63-63. Josiah Blue Arm raced up-court and scored on a lay-up, Crow Creek retook the lead, 65-63. Teron Sazue was fouled again, and he went to the line and again tied it up, 65-65.

Trevin McBride missed the next shot for Crow Creek, Izaiah Sorace rebounded, raced up-court, and drove in for a score, putting White River on top, 67-65, with 1:29 left to play.

Demont Medicine Crow made his mark on the game, by driving the lane and tying it back up, 67-67. Iyotte finally recaptured some of his earlier magic, and with 58 seconds left, he drained a three, giving White River a 70-67 lead. Blue Arm attempted to respond, but was fouled by Teron Sazue, who fouled out, and Blue Arm went to the line, missing both free throws.

Pine Ridge’s DJ Vitalis drives for the bucket past White River’s Donnie Yackley. Vitalis won the 2017 LNI Sportsmanship Award. Photo by James Giago Davies

Joe Sazue was eventually forced to foul Sorace, stopping the clock at 35.6 seconds, and Sorace went to the line, hit both free throws, and it was 72-67. Medicine Crow was then fouled, and hit both free throws, 72-69. Joe Sazue fouled out by fouling Sayler, and Sayler hit one of two free throws, for the final score, 73-69.

Both teams hit 23 shoots, and White River scored but one more free throw. The difference was the three-point buckets, as White River had seven and Crow Creek had three. Crow Creek actually held a huge rebound advantage, 37-21, but it made no difference, probably because none of those were offensive rebounds, so no second chance points.

Sophomore Luke Wells led Crow Creek with 25 points and five rebounds. Joe Sazue had 23 points and eight rebounds. Blue Arm added 10 points and a whopping 16 rebounds.

Iyotte led all scorers with 26 points. Yackley had 17, and Sayler had 11.

When asked what happened to his 19-point lead, Marshall said, “I told Coach Bouman they were gonna make a run. They’re a good enough team they’re gonna make a run like that.”

He had praise for the scoring outburst of Iyotte: “He can do it, he’s capable of doing that in practice. He was feeling it for a bit and then he got hurt and it sort of took the wind out of our sails.”

White River Tigers 33 28 12 73
Crow Creek Chieftains 16 45 8 69

James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe. He can be reached at