BUTTE — The Great Falls’ three-pointers came early and often against the Butte High boys’ basketball team.
Four in the first quarter. Two more in the second. Five total in the second half. It was a full broadside barrage aimed at the Bulldogs, who were unable to keep pace and fell 55-34 in Class AA Eastern Conference action.
The Bison move to 9-2 on the year while Butte is 1-9 and still looking for its first conference win.
“We wanted to make them beat us from 20 feet instead of two feet and they did it,” Bulldog head coach Luke Powers said. “We have to live and die by shooting the three a little bit. At the same time we have to try and live and die by letting other teams shoot threes. We have to suck things in on the inside because we’re so small.”
It didn’t help the Bulldogs were without sophomore guard Tommy Mellott — who is averaging nearly two steals a game — due to a rolled ankle suffered during a shootaround. It led to Powers using a rotation of mostly six players and there weren’t a whole lot of breaks to be had for the Bulldogs.
Butte struggled to close out shooters in the game, but Great Falls also made quite a few contested shots. The Bison certainly had a height advantage and 6-foot-3 forward Blake Thelen was a dominant force, scoring 16 points and hit a pair of three-point shots in the first quarter.
“It’s fortunate we hit those early shots, because Butte was matching us basket for basket,” Great Falls head coach Bob Howard said. “We got a little bit of a cushion and they were very patient, we were kinda patient and playing good defense.
“It probably wasn’t a style that was very pleasing for the fans, but it was pleasing for us.”
The Bulldogs did hang around early and had the game tied at 14 after the first quarter. Butte had four three-point makes in the first eight minutes, but had just one more for the rest of the game.
A quick 10-0 Bison run to start the second quarter gave them a bit of room to work with and Butte trailed 26-16 at the half. The Bulldogs weren’t able to get a whole lot of good looks after the break and Great Falls’ lead became insurmountable.
“They started switching screens on us, which is a good idea for them because they match up almost everywhere,” Powers said. “We really didn’t want to get a whole lot of shots off, we wanted to slow the game down.
“We had the tempo where we wanted it and they just made shots.”
Next season, however, that might change.
Dan McCloskey, who scored 131 points (10.9 per game) for Butte Central decided to transfer to Butte. Powers said the decision had nothing to do with basketball and that he was surprised when he first hear the news.
McCloskey started 12 games for the Maroons this year and hit 11-of-47 three-point attempts while shooting 68-percent at the free throw line. While not eligible to play varsity, McCloskey scored 23 points in Butte’s JV win over Great Falls.
“The kid wanted to come to Butte High school where his friends are,” Powers said. “He’s a heckuva player and we’re going to be excited to have him next year.”