It is never easy for a young team to make a postseason run. But if the Havre High boys basketball team can continue to piece the puzzle together as the Blue Ponies continue to improve, they should have as good a chance as anybody at the divisional tournament.
The fourth-seeded Central A Blue Ponies will play at the CMR Fieldhouse in Great Falls today through Saturday in the 2013 Central A Divisional. The Central A title is on the line, as well as a state berth, and the young 5-13 Ponies would like to make a run at both. The No. 1 Browning Indians are a favorite to win it all this weekend, sitting at 16-2. The Belgrade Panthers are also 11-7 and in second place, while the Lewistown Golden Eagles are third at 3-15 and the Livingston Rangers are fifth at 6-12.
Havre will open its post season tonight at 8 when the Ponies face the Livingston Rangers in the first round.
“I think we do have a chance to get a couple of wins,” Havre High head coach Curt Leeds said. “We have improved a lot, our learning curve was huge this year, and we really have grown. I think the boys are excited to play in this divisional tournament. Besides Browning, I think the conference has pretty even basketball.”
The Indians have pretty much handled everybody in the conference this season, but the Panthers have shown they are beatable. The Ponies lost to the Panthers by just two points, 62-60 in December.
Now, hopefully playing their best basketball to date, the Ponies will look to get past the Rangers before taking on the Indians in the semifinals on Friday. The Ponies split with Livingston during the regular season. HHS lost 52-44 in the first meeting, but earned a 62-52 win the second. And the Ponies know what they have to do to earn another win over the Rangers and not start the postseason off with a loss.
“We really have to limit Marcus Paynes’ opportunities on the offensive end,” Leeds said. “And we have to keep executing our offense in a way that gives us nice and easy shots. We want high percentage shots.”
Payne is a top tier post player in the Central A, and can take over a game if not stopped. The Ponies have to force him into tough shots, and make somebody else step up and beat them. In the win over the Rangers, Payne still scored 21 points, but held the next highest contributor, Ladan Ricketts to just eight. If HHS can keep Payne out of the paint and force somebody else to make shots, the Ponies have to like their chances.
But a win in the first round means a semifinal matchup with the Indians, the favorite to win the title this weekend.
Browning beat the Ponies 77-60 and 75-46 this season. The Indians’ offense is very hard to put a damper on, and the Ponies have to find a way to do that for a complete game. In the second matchup the Ponies did well to start, holding the game at a 16-16 tie, but couldn’t slow the Indians down in the second half, as they eventually put up 75 on the Ponies.
“I think we have a better idea of what we have to do,” Leeds said. “We handled their press pretty well and even got them out of their press in the first quarter, and that helped a lot. But it comes down to playing smart and really working hard against them. Browning is going to give you a layup if you can work the ball around for so long.”
Browning averages almost 75 points per game, and allows just under 60 per game. Havre is last after scoring just under 47 a game, but second by allowing just over 55 per game. Belgrade is first in the league by allowing just 50 points per game. Livingston also averages 55 points per game, while Belgrade averages just under 55 and Lewistown averages 50.
The Pony defense can face a team in several different looks. They like to mix their zone and man, as well as bounce in and out of a press.
But on offense, the game plan is a more simple. The Ponies need to play patient, inside-out basketball. If the bucket isn’t there in transition, the Ponies have to run their offense, working the ball inside to Kade Rismon or Thurman Holdsclaw. If the inside look isn’t there, the Ponies do have guards that can score. Dane Warp is also a force inside, but has been grabbing his buckets with jump shots and dribble penetration. Warp leads the Ponies with over 15 points per game, while Rismon adds 11 and Holdsclaw adds another eight per game. The three also combine to average 15 rebounds per game, while Holdsclaw is shooting 51 percent, Rismon is shooting 50 percent, and Warp is shooting 45 percent from the field coming into the divisional tournament.
Nate Rismon, Jon Faber, Ramsey Drew, and Brian Smith also add to a mix of guards that can grab a handful of points for the Ponies.
“We just want to keep trying to get our big three (Kade Rismon, Holdsclaw, and Warp) to keep scoring,” Leeds said. “Thurman has really stepped up these last few games and has played really well, so now we have scoring from him, Kade, and Dane, and that is a huge step forward.”
The Ponies begin their quest to make the Class A state tournament field in tonight’s Central A opener against Livingston at 8 at the CMR Field House in Great Falls. The 2013 Central A tournament runs through Saturday night, with the top two teams moving on to the state tournament in two weeks in Billings.
Central A Boys Schedule
Havre vs. Livingston, 8 p.m.
Belgrade vs. Lewistown, 2:30 p.m.
Havre-Livingston winner vs. Browning, 8 p.m.
Havre-Livingston loser vs. Belgrade-Lewistown loser, 11 a.m.
Saturday AM winner vs. Havre-Livingston-Browning loser, 4:30 p.m.
Semifinal winners, 8 p.m.