RAPID CITY—If you live to be a thousand years old, you might never see a better basketball game than the war waged between host Rapid City Central and Sioux Falls Roosevelt last Saturday afternoon. Roosevelt led by as many as 13 points, but the Cobblers refused to allow a bigger, stronger more highly regarded team to best them, and with less than a second remaining, 6-3 senior forward Micah Swallow let fly a prayer from half-court— and the ball pierced the cylinder like it had been yanked through on a chain. Head Coach T.J. Hay’s Cobblers had dramatically notched one of the greatest comeback victories in Central’s storied basketball history, turning back the Rough Riders, 62-59.
Even the halcyon days of Cobbler excellence under legendary Coach Dave Strain never produced a victory quite like this one. The court erupted in pandemonium, fans sprang to their feet, the crescendo of applause left clapping hands stinging. Unable to contain his elation, Swallow raced helter-skelter up the court, and his teammates swarmed in and mauled him with adulation.
Only a split second before, Roosevelt had been the commanding court presence, grim, earnest, gifted, and determined as any team in the state, but once Swallow drained his game wrecking dagger from the sky, they vanished like wispy ash in a harsh wind, like all those vanquished souls at the end of Avenger’s Infinity Wars.
It must have been a seriously long bus ride back to Sioux Falls.
What was Hay thinking when that ball dropped through? —“To be honest, I was happy that we rebounded it. I was thinking about what we were gonna be doing in the over time. After (Swallow) rebounded, he kind of got knocked off balance a little bit, regained it, took two more dribbles, and they did exactly what we want our guys to do, which is get out of the way so you don’t foul. He just drilled it, didn’t bank it in or nothin’, it just went straight in.”
A veteran, well-schooled team, Roosevelt always plays with confidence. This was their third loss, but all of the losses have come in desperate struggles, as they lost by only one point to undefeated, top-rated S.F. Washington. They have twice-beaten SF O’Gorman, who beat Central by 19 on Friday night, and would beat Rapid City Stevens by 19 as well on Saturday. Roosevelt has one of the most polished, heady, sneaky-quick little point guards in the state in Tucker Large, large not in size, as he is usually one of the smaller players on the court, but usually the largest factor, win or lose, in a game’s outcome. Usually. He certainly was the floor general par excellence the night before, when Roosevelt dismantled Rapid City Stevens, 60-38. But on Saturday afternoon, at Naasz Gymnasium, Swallow shared the spotlight with no player, although plenty of quality contributions from the rest of the team put him in that spotlight.
Although Swallow was 7-for-7 from the free throw line, the team was almost perfect as well.
“We were 12-for-13 from the free throw line tonight,” Hay said. “Something we’ve been talking about for a good couple of weeks. It’s not that we can’t make free throws, we are just lacking a little bit of concentration and confidence when we get to the line. If you look at the stats that was the difference in the game.”
Even in defeat, Roosevelt never lost their confidence, although they did make a few crucial judgment errors that proved critical at the end. It came down to the trusted relationship between two players who have been playing varsity since they were freshman, Large and Tyler Feldkamp. With under ten seconds remaining, the score knotted at 59-59, Roosevelt inbounded the ball right along Central’s baseline, Large fired a quick inbounds pass to the muscular, athletic Feldkamp, he penetrated inside the arc, and released a pull-up jumper that double clanked and caromed away, where maybe their big, strong 6-6 center Trey Horner might have snagged it, might have scored on a put-back. Except Horner had just fouled out, on a technical, when he inexplicably leaped up after the play was over and snapped the basketball rim.
Down 59-55, Roosevelt would not quit, especially Large and Feldkamp. Large resorted to his specialty, which is to knife into the paint and draw a foul, which he generally follows up by sinking both free throws. This he did, and it was 59-57. After a Central time out, it was Feldkamp’s turn to get the ball and force a foul. He went to the line, hit both free throws, and it was 59-59. After a Central double dribble turnover, Large brought the ball over half court and Sioux Falls called a time out. Back on the court they got the ball inside for a certain lay-up, but Kohl Meisman, making up for his dribbling error, tipped the ball out of bounds. This left Roosevelt with 9 seconds, 6 on the shot clock, and that is when Large inbounded to Feldkamp and Feldkamp clanked the shot.
The gift of 20-20 hindsight allows us to see it would have been better to have Feldkamp inbound to Large, because the surest weapon Roosevelt has at their disposal is Large driving the paint and forcing a foul, when he is almost a guarantee to convert at the charity stripe. But alas, we will never know, and after Feldkamp missed his jumper, the quick-leaping Swallow snatched up the miss, took a couple of dribbles to orient himself, and then let fly the coffin nail from half court.
“They’re a very physical team,” Hay said. “We were maybe four minutes into the third quarter and we were already shootin’ bonus. I told (Swallow), and not to take away from that half-court shot, but he did some other really nice things. He got a huge steal…a lot of people don’t remember the inside pass he made to the post player, Josh Krauter. There were three guys around (Krauter), and he dished it inside and Josh had an uncontested lay-up at a crucial time.”
Crashing the offensive glass in the first quarter gave Roosevelt the 13-point lead, but it was the play of Meisman and Julian Swallow as much as Micah Swallow that allowed the Cobblers to claw their way back from that deficit and take the lead by 4 with 1:14 left in the third.
“We gave up 22 in the first quarter,” Hay said, “and then we gave up 23 in the second and third quarters combined. I felt like that was some defensive effort.”
A telltale sign of a confident team is how well they crash the boards, and Roosevelt crashes the boards with the best of them.
“They just hurt us the first quarter with that,” Hay said. “One time we gave up two or three offensive rebounds in one possession and they ended up scoring in that possession.”
Central outrebounded Roosevelt off the defensive end by 9, but were outrebounded off the offensive glass by 10. The two offensive rebounds Central did have, Swallow had both.
“Not surprising,” Hay said. “He’s such a quick jumper. I think he’s averaging ten rebounds a game. That’s not easy to do when you’re a guard, even though he has decent size and he’s a good leaper.”
Micah Swallow led all scorers with 23, and all rebounders with 10. H also went 7-for-7 from the line with 4 assists, 2 steals, and no turnovers. Meisman added 19 with 7 rebounds. Julian Swallow had 9 points, 3 assists and a steal, but most of his contributions came at critical times that helped prevent Roosevelt from blowing the game open. Taylen Ashley led Sioux Falls with 15 points, and Marcus Phillips had 8 rebounds, 6 off the offensive glass. Large and Feldkamp both had 13 points.
Hay believes his team has known all along that it can ball with any East River school, but that “we just haven’t had one of those great team defensive efforts like we had today. Roosevelt is a very good team, O’Gorman is a very good team, and I think we are right up there with those guys. I just want our kids to understand that when they play good basketball they have just as good a chance as anybody going down the stretch. I think we grew up as a team today.”
Hay’s assessment, “Win or lose, we have to get better,” has become the mantra for the 2021 Cobblers.
(Contact James Giago Davies at firstname.lastname@example.org)