by Ryan Divish
Havre Daily News Sports Editor
GREAT FALLS - To look at Rocky Boy head coach Andy Smith sitting in the Stars' locker room, completely drained as if he had just got done playing 38 minutes himself, it was tough to tell if his team had just won. But the Northern Stars did. Barely.
Rocky Boy survived some bad shooting early, and even worse decision-making late, to escape with a 51-49 overtime win over the upset-minded and scrappy Roberts Rockets in Thursday's opening game of the Class C State Boys Basketball Tournament at the Four Seasons Arena.
After squandering a five-point lead with over 30 seconds remaining in regulation, the Stars were able to cling to a one-point lead with 17.4 seconds remaining in overtime.
Jesse Colliflower sank one of two free throws with 4.7 seconds remaining and Roberts' desperation heave at the buzzer was wide, sending the Stars into tonight's semifinal against the Whitewater Penguins, who defeated the Drummond Trojans, 79-57, later in the day.
"Oh man, what a game," Smith said with a huge sigh. "We looked like a team that hasn't played a game in two weeks. We looked really rusty. We were so flat at the beginning of the game."
Rusty and flat are not a good combination when it comes to state tournament games, where good teams will make you pay. And Roberts did just that early on, jumping out to 12-4 first quarter lead on a Kyle Preuit jumpshot.
Using a stingy man-to-man defense and a patient offense, the Rockets were able to force Rocky Boy to play at a much slower pace than it wanted. The Stars didn't help themselves by missing a couple lay-ups early and clanging a few long jump shots.
"We don't see man-to-man very often," said Stars senior standout Charles Walking Child. "And once we got down, we started to force some things."
Indeed, Rocky Boy's trademark motion on offense and ball movement was nonexistent.
"We were just standing around on offense and settling for 3-pointers and long jump shots," Smith said. "That's not our strong point."
Rocky Boy did cut the lead down to 15-10 at the end first quarter, but things would only get worse in the second quarter.
The normally potent Stars managed just five points in the second quarter on a Colliflower jumpshot, a James Burns drive and a free throw from Joe Small.
"We couldn't make anything," Smith said. "We weren't taking very good shots to begin with, and the good looks we did get, didn't go in."
Indeed, Rocky Boy shot a paltry 7-26 in the first for an icy 27 percent from the field, including 0-8 from 3-point range.
While the Stars couldn't toss it in the back of a dump truck, Roberts was executing with precision, using a myriad of backdoor cuts and strong interior passing to extend its lead to 25-15 on four straight baskets from Colter DeVries.
"We were doing what we wanted to do early on," said Roberts' head coach George Nelson. "We were controlling the tempo and handling their defensive pressure."
The 15 first-half points was the lowest total the Stars had scored all season. The other stats were just as startling, such as 10 first-half turnovers and just nine total rebounds, compared with 20 from Roberts.
"We knew we were a better team than that," Smith said. "We knew we would get going offensively. Defensively, we didn't play bad. They only scored 25 points, which I can handle. But I couldn't handle the way we were getting outrebounded. We usually do that to teams."
Roberts looked poised to put the game away early in the third quarter as Preuit buried a 3-pointer to push the lead to 12 at 30-18.
But it never happened. The Stars finally got going offensively, albeit rather innocently, as Upton Whitford hit a short jumpshot and Small made one of two free throws. The Stars slowly chipped away at the lead as Walking Child scored four points and Burns sank a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 33-30.
"We got back on our heels offensively and stopped attacking the basket," Nelson said.
With Rocky Boy finally making some noise offensively, the largely partisan Stars' crowd at the Four Seasons started making noise of its own.
Rocky Boy tied the game twice early in the fourth quarter and finally took the lead with 4:28 remaining as Colliflower forced a steal and found Walking Child with a pretty pass for a score inside and a foul. He added the free throw to give the Stars a 41-38 lead.
From there, the Stars pushed it 45-40 on 4-6 free throws from Walking Child with 1:14 remaining.
It seemed like all the Stars would have to do was sit back and wait for the Rockets to put them on the foul line, especially after Walking Child picked up a loose ball giving them possession with under a minute.
But instead, he tried to fire the ball the length of the floor, to a streaking Small. The pass was subsequently intercepted, and later led to a Kyle DeSaveur 3-pointer with 29.5 seconds left.
"Yeah, I'd like to have that pass back," Walking Child admitted. "There were a couple of passes I would like to have back."
Things got even worse as Colliflower was whistled for a charge on the ensuing possession. Roberts' Tyge DeVries drew a foul with 18.2 seconds remaining and calmly made both to tie the game.
Rocky Boy set up for a final shot, but a long 3-point attempt and two flailing putbacks were hardly what Smith had in mind.
"You know we did the same thing against Winifred in the divisional championship," Smith said. "We made some poor decisions and turnovers down the stretch. I really feel like we should have won the game in regulation. Instead, we basically gave them the opportunity to get back in it."
In the extra period, Roberts grabbed the initial lead on a Preuit lay-up in transition to go up two. But Small answered with his second 3-pointer of the game to push the lead up 48-47. Moments later, Walking Child found a cutting Nate Rock on a nifty interior pass to push the lead to 50-47.
From there Rocky Boy would hang on for the win, but not after another long baseball pass from Small that was intercepted and ultimately led to a score from DeSaveur to cut the lead to one with 54 seconds remaining.
"Yeah, those baseball passes are going to have to go," Smith said with a smile. "You know have to give our kids credit. They fought and scrapped the entire game, and found a way to win even though we didn't play that well."
Said Nelson: "We had our chances. But the missed free throws killed us. They let them back into the game."
Tyge DeVries finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Preuit and Colter DeVries added 12 each.
"(Tyge DeVries) is a good player and really gave us some problems," Smith said.
Walking Child led the Stars with 23 points and 11 rebounds and four steals. But, he was the only Rocky Boy player in double figures.
"The two weeks off made us a little rusty," he said. "We just needed to get that first game out of the way. We're going to come back tomorrow and play better."
As for Smith's thoughts on Walking Child's prediction.
"Oh my gosh, I hope so," he said exhaustedly. "This one was pretty rough."