The Dillon boys basketball team extended its unbeaten streak — extending back to January 2016 — by toppling Butte Central, 53-39, in the Class A State Tournament semifinals in the Butte Civic Center on Friday night.
The Beavers plays in the state championship game at 8 p.m. Saturday, while the Maroons are bumped to consolation play against Polson at 9:30 a.m. If Butte Central wins, it will advance to the third-place game at 6:30 p.m.
Beavers (23-0) coach Terry Thomas said Dillon “got off to a great start offensively.”
“Our guys did a really nice job of moving the basketball from one side of the court to the other,” he said. “Then, when we got a chance to take it up to the basket to see if we could get a good shot, we did. Then to get a good start like that allowed us to play the defenses that we wanted, and it gave us a little rhythm to the game.”
The teams met twice during the regular season, with Dillon taking wins of 46-39 and 53-46.
In the semifinals, Butte Central couldn’t crack Dillon’s defense as the Beavers got off to hot start in the opening half.
After Dillon won the tip and senior Troy Andersen drove for a layup, Butte Central sophomore Dan McCloskey hit a 3-pointer to give the tournament hosts a 3-2 lead.
It turned out to be the Maroons' only lead.
The Beavers followed with a 13-1 run capped by three 3-pointers to claim an early 15-4 advantage.
In the second frame, the Maroons had better looks at the hoop.
After Dillon's Tanner Haverfield hit both his free throws to open the quarter, Butte Central broke its dry spell. More than seven minutes after its first field goal, freshman post Matt Simkins drove through the paint for a basket with an assist from senior Sam Johnston. Four minutes later, the Maroons got treys from McCloskey and freshman Luke Heaphy.
Heaphy's trey cut BC's deficit to eight points, but the Beavers forced three turnovers to help overcome just seven points as a team in the period.
Andersen ended the first half with a jumper to take a 22-12 lead into the locker room.
Dillon shot 63 percent from the field and was 5 for 9 at the 3-point arc. Andersen led the Beavers with 20 points, while Haverfield chipped in 14 points.
Butte Central never closed in on Dillon during the second half, with three starters getting called for their third fouls soon after the break.
Thomas said he knew the Beavers had to stay between the Maroons shooters and the basket.
“We had to try to not give them any open looks,” he said. “That was our goal and boy, the kids really flew around on defense to try to make that happen. They got a few open looks and they knocked down some shots, but there weren’t that many.”
Dillon ended the third quarter on a 7-0 run to build a 17-point cushion. Dillon’s biggest lead was 22 points in the final period.
Maroons (14-10) coach Brodie Kelly said the team wasn’t prepared mentally.
“We weren’t defensively aware the way we needed to be,” he said. “We weren’t taking away driving lanes from their best players, and that was a killer. I just think we were a little slow reacting defensively. We didn’t have our hands up on shooters. We weren’t the defensive team tonight we have been the last 14 games or so.”
The Maroons were led by McCloskey and Heaphy with nine points apiece. Johnston added three steals and two assists. Butte Central shot 40 percent from the field and grabbed 15 rebounds.
It will be the fourth consecutive year Dillon plays for the state title. The Beavers placed second twice, and then beat Billings Central for last year's title. Dillon has four state titles since 2007.
Butte Central will face a familiar opponent in Polson in consolation. The Pirates defeated the Maroons, 58-47, in the semifinals at divisionals. Polson placed third overall in the state a season ago.
“We played a competitive game, I think it was tight the last few minutes,” Kelly said. “But they’re a good team. They’re a really talented and mature team. The toughest thing for us is going to be the mental turnaround. It’s hard when your mind is on a state championship, and then you lose it and have to turn around and play the next morning. But I think we’ve proved throughout this year that we have a lot of guys with character and toughness.”