GREAT FALLS — The top-seeded Billings Central Rams survived a scare against Butte Central on Thursday morning, beating the Maroons 62-44 and advancing to the next round of the Division A State Tournament in Great Falls.
The Rams are set to play Polson Thursday at 7:30 p.m while the Maroons have fallen into the consolation bracket.
"I'm expecting some fight (in the consolation bracket) with the result of this one," Butte Central coach Brodie Kelly said. "We had some tough plays made by a lot of players but they got into foul trouble."
The Butte Central Maroons had their work cut out for them facing the size and speed of Billings Central, but that did not stop them from building an early lead on the one-seed. Their lead did not last long though, as Billings Central had a two-point advantage going into the second quarter.
Billings Central began to press in the second quarter, which helped the Maroons find better shots when they were able to beat it. Dougie Peoples had a quiet first quarter, but hit a three-pointer late in the second quarter to tie the game at 22.
It was on the defensive side of the floor that the Maroons appeared most impressive in the first half. The Maroons forced seven turnovers by the Rams, who shot 52% from the field and 0% from three in the first half. The Rams led 28-26 at halftime.
"We turned the ball over too much, our focus was get the ball in the paint to score and we didn't do that enough in the first half," said Billings Central coach Jim Stergar. "Credit to their (Butte Central) defense, they were all over the place and really did a nice job."
The Rams held a five point lead for the majority of the third quarter, until the Maroons committed a turnover with just over two minutes remaining in the quarter. Cayden Merchant converted the turnover into two points, giving his team a seven point lead.
The Rams led 42-34 after three quarters and quickly grew their lead to double-digits in the fourth quarter. The Maroons played fast and aggressive on defense, but were unable to score efficiently enough to complete the comeback.
"We did enough and played a bunch of guys. We're pretty deep and attrition usually comes in to play, we were built for this kind of tournament," Stergar said.
Billings Central's Cayden Merchant led all scorers with 19 points, while Brock Blatter had ten points and seven rebounds. Malachi Stewart and Marcus Wittman both scored eleven points for Billings Central.
For the Maroons, Dougie Peoples and Drew Badovinac finished with 11 points. Kyle Holter had a versatile game, scoring four points, five rebounds, three assists and four steals.
Polson completes comeback over Lewistown to advance
Polson and Lewistown hit the court early Thursday morning where they traded the lead multiple times, yet it was Polson who held the lead at the final buzzer, winning 69-55.
Polson has moved on to the next round of the tournament and will face the winner of Butte Central and Billings Central tomorrow at 5:30 p.m..
"We looked at each other and said hey, we got to start playing as a team, and that's what we did in the second half," said Polson forward Colton Graham.
Fans from both schools were vocal and passionate, but no moment evoked a louder cheer than the four-minute mark in the first quarter. After stealing the ball, Lewistown's Luke Clinton drove down court where he finished a dunk while being fouled by Polson forward Colton Graham.
Polson began the game with a full-court defense, but soon drifted back to a half-court set as they had trouble securing the ball. Polson committed seven first-half turnovers which Lewistown often turned into points or free throws.
"We had to settle in. We were trying to make plays instead of letting the game come to us," said Polson coach Randy Kelley. "Once we settled in, we started grinding in on that 13-point lead they had."
Lewistown built their lead to 13 points in the second quarter, partially due to their hot shooting from the three-point line. Lewistown shot 71% from three and 69% from the free throw line in the first half.
Despite building a significant lead, Polson adjusted their scheme and drew within three at halftime. Lewistown led 36-33 at the half after they made a last-second lay-in.
While Polson looked a step slow in the first half, they came out strong in the second. Less than two minutes into the second half, Polson took the lead and held it through the entire third quarter. Polson led 49-42 at the end of the third.
Lewistown brought defensive pressure in the fourth quarter, where they trailed by nine points at the five-minute mark. Neither team had much momentum, as a defensive foul was called on more than half of the possessions in the fourth quarter.
"We saw how the game was called in the first half and it was tight, so we played to that," Kelley said . "I told them to attack the hoop like they were attacking us. It was definitely a game of two different halves."
Lewistown lost their stroke from the perimeter, which may have been the primary factor for their second-half slow down. They shot 0% from three in the second half, compared to 71% in the first half.
Colton Graham (Polson) led all scorers with 23 points and also grabbed eight rebounds. Jarrett Wilson had a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Braunson Henriksen added 14 points.
"You have to play your game and adjust to how it's called, and I think we did a good job of that in the second half," Kelley said. "This team is close-knit, it's special to see them so close and it was a great start, really great start."
For Lewistown, Bryce Graham led the way with 17 points and six rebounds. Royce Robinson added 16.
Blake Fussell covers sports in and around Butte. Follow Blake on Twitter @blake_fussell