Dominant fourth quarter vaults Howard over Philip, into state tournament

Mar. 5—CHAMBERLAIN, S.D. — Entrenched in a defensive grinder of a game for the better part of three quarters, Howard staked its claim as a state tournament team in a decisive way Tuesday night.

After leading a pesky Philip side 28-27 late in the third quarter, the Tigers went to another level for the final quarter, going on a 17-1 run to end the game with a 45-28 win in the Class B SoDak 16.

Greeting the Tigers now is the school's first state tournament berth since 1995.

"I'm just so happy for the kids," coach Nick Koepsell said. "We've had good teams the last three to four years that, to be quite honest, have been good enough to make the state tournament ... We made it to the SoDak 16 last year and didn't quite get the job done. So these guys earned a trip to Aberdeen and I'd like to think that our job's not done yet."

The formula for beating the Scotties was similar to what it's been for much of the season: Play good defense, and figure out how to beat the opposing team's zone that's determined to slow down 6-foot-7 center Kolt Koepsell inside.

The latter part of the plan proved shaky, as Howard was susceptible to turnovers and was unable to knock down the open shots from the perimeter that Philip afforded to them.

But once the Tigers figured it out, the game turned in a hurry.

Leading 30-27 in the fourth quarter, an and-one layup by Kolt Koepsell kick-started the Tigers' run. A Taiden Hoyer layup followed, then Luke Koepsell connected on a floater off of a set play to push the lead to 37-27. After a Philip timeout, the Tigers' defense eliminated any hope for a counter from the Scotties by forcing back-to-back turnovers, turning them into four points the other way to put the game out of question.

"Basically, all the times we struggled to score are when teams playing a zone collapse in on our big guys, and it really depends if you make shots or not," Luke Koepsell said. "But they started to fall. And that's when we started to score."

Kolt Koepsell finished the game with 10 points, while Logan Mentele had nine points, and Colby Claussen, Taiden Hoyer and Luke Koepsell each had eight points.

After the slow first half, which saw the Tigers leading 15-13, each starter seemed to have a big shot in the third quarter, whether it be a third quarter 3-ball from Claussen, or a Luke Koepsell layup of a dish from Kolt.

"It seemed like we got the shots in the fourth quarter that we weren't hitting in the first half," coach Koepsell said. "I just kept telling the guys, 'We're not going to get a better look than that.' So keep firing them, shoot with confidence, shoot in rhythm. Eventually the law of averages will catch up with us and we'll knock some down."

But the Scotties also found their stride in the third quarter, hitting a handful of 3-pointers and a pair of and-one layups. The effort pushed the Tigers' lead to just one, and turned the momentum inside the gym.

For the Scotties, Lane Kuchenbecker, Layton Terkildsen and Kade Fitzgerald tabbed seven points.

However, none of them managed points in the final quarter. Instead, Howard took over the game and took the keys for a trip to Aberdeen.

The Tigers will play Wessington Springs in the state quarterfinals at 1:45 p.m. on March 14 on the campus of Northern State University.

"We're ready," Luke Koepsell siad. "We've been ready, and we're ready to show what we're made of and make a statement up there."