Fond du Lac Ojibwe’s High School basketball team had to go to triple overtime in the Class 1A quarterfinals before coming out victorious. It was the first time that the school, which has only 34 students, played in a state tournament. They beat Canby 85-82.
“I’ve never had a game like that,” Fond du Lac Ojibwe coach Earl Otis told the Star Tribune. “I’m at a loss for words.”
On Thursday, the team built a 17-point lead in the Minnesota Class 1A boys basketball quarterfinals, but in the second half, Canaby started to come back. And Fond du Lac was in trouble. Starters Dexter Deville and Trevontae Brown fouled out; Brown came out in the last, crucial 34 seconds left in regulation.
“When Trevontae, our only senior, went out, the guys just came together and said, ‘Let’s win one for Trevontae,'” Otis told the Duluth News Tribune.
And they did it, with Davonte Williamson’s help.
Williamson had 23 points, 20 rebounds and five assists, playing for 48 minutes of the game. He made a steal in the last five seconds of the third OT, dunked (missing the 2 points) and was fouled. Williamson missed both free throws and turned the ball over. At this point they were in triple overtime and it was 82-85. Finally, in the last play, Williamson stopped Canby from a 3-point buzzer beater shot to tie the game. Fond du Lac won it 85-82.
“I’ve never played a game like that in my life,” Williamson told the Star Tribune.
“As a captain, my team counted on me to pull us through,” Williamson told the Duluth News. “Coach Otis told me before the second overtime we would put the ball in my hands at the end until we got that ‘W.’ Then we could head to the locker room, and I could take all the credit in the world. We were tired, we were injured, but we just had to dig a little deeper and we did.”
It was a triumphant day as well as a historic one. On March 13, two teams from Minnesota reservations — Fond du Lac and Red Lake — advanced to the state tournament (quarterfinals) in the same year for the first time, according to the Star Tribune. Fond du Lac advanced to the semi-finals, but that same night, Red Lake lost to Maranatha Christian, 95-67.
“[Basketball] really brings our community together,” Fond du Lac superintendent Mike Rabideaux told the paper. “It gives us something to believe in, something to be proud of.”
And both teams had their fans’ support. Hundreds of supporters came out to watch the games and Fond du Lac Ojibwe fans held a drum ceremony on court during halftime. “It’s just been a million miles with these boys, and just to see them come and achieve big things is awesome,” said James Kornby, a Fond du Lac fan.
Fifth-seed Fond du Lac (25-3), averaging 92 points this season, moved on to play top-seeded Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (29-1) in the semi-finals at the Target Center on March 14, where they lost 76-58.
If how they played this year is any indication of what is to come for the small “rez ball team” next season, their fans have a lot to look forward to.
“We run and gun,” Williamson said. “Every time we go somewhere, people look at us like, ‘That team is tiny.’ Then they’re like, ‘Whoa.’?”