There were a lot of blowouts and lopsided at the District 9C boys tournament this weekend. But it is safe to say that the championship game between the Box Elder Bears and Big Sandy Pioneers was not one of them.
Saturday night at the Havre High gymnasium, in the 9C championship game, the top-seeded Box Elder Bears defeated the second-seeded Big Sandy Pioneers 89-85 after three overtime periods. The Bears had a first-round bye, followed by a semifinal win over Chinook to get to the championship game, while the Pioneers also had a first-round bye followed by win over Hays-Lodge Pole to get to the championship.
And after a thrilling title game, Box Elder has a long-awaited 9C boys crown.
“This started two years ago at our first meeting,” Box Elder head coach Jeremy MacDonald said. “We talked about belief, we told the kids we believe in them. The kids now believe in each other and everybody has belief in each other and this program. Tonight that belief came through for us."
“This is yeah,” Box Elder freshman point guard Brandon The Boy added. “The biggest game I have played in. We played three or four overtimes I am not even sure anymore. It feels good, I wasn’t expecting this my freshman year, but all the hard work paid off.”
The matchup between the Bears and Pioneers was expected to be high scoring, maybe not three overtime periods of scoring, but an offensive show none-the-less. Both squads house an explosive offense, and love to get out and run the floor. There wasn’t a whole lot of set plays ran by either team, but both teams showed they could fly down the court, hit 3-pointers, get inside, or score in transition.
Box Elder took advantage of the physical game early. The Bears' defensive pressure forced the Pioneers to turn the ball over eight times in the first half, while the Pioneer offense shot 40 percent from the field. The Bears on the other hand, were scoring from all over the floor, carried by Clayton Morsette Jr. and Thomas Parisian who combined for 11 points in the second quarter alone. The offensive advantage gave the Bears a commanding 35-23 lead at the break.
But down the stretch of regulation, the Pioneers fought back and turned a 12-point deficit into a game that took three extra frames to settle.
“We expected them to make a run,” MacDonald said. “They are a championship caliber ball club and they have been in these tough situations. Our young guys got a little bit rattled, but they didn’t hang their heads. We kept our composure and we came back and finished the game. The kids stepped up.”
Big Sandy outscored Box Elder 29-18 in the third quarter. The Pioneers began the frame with a 4-0 run before trailing by just two points with 58 seconds left play. Jerry Hanson converted a Bears’ turnover into an easy layup as the Bears led 50-48. Hanson followed with another layup off of a turnover, while Trevor Lackner also hit free throws to offset a Bears’ three, as Box Elder was no longer comfortably ahead, leading just 53-52.
The fourth quarter was just as tight. The lead changed hands on several occasions, but the excitement didn’t start until again, 58 seconds were left to play. This time, Lonnie Plain Bull Jr. hit a trey for the Bears to tie the game at 67-67. The Pioneers missed the go ahead shot on the ensuing possession, while the Bears did the same with a missed triple.
A long rebound resulted in Jessey Bailey running the court for the Pioneers, and knocking down a layup at the buzzer to give the Pioneers the win. The referees waved off the apparanet game-winner and overtime ensued.
“I just kept thinking that we had to keep pushing and we couldn’t let up,” The Boy said. “We had to keep the pressure
on and keep playing Box Elder Bears basketball.”
In the first overtime, both teams scored eight points. This time, the heroics came from Lackner. Brandon The Boy hit one bonus free throw to give the Bears a 75-73 lead with 16 seconds left, but that was plenty for Lackner. Lackner took the rebound on the second missed foul shot the length of the court and hit a running layup over two defenders to tie the game 75-75. Once in the second overtime, both squads scored seven points. Quinn Baker hit two bonus shots to tie the game 82-82 for the Bears, and the Pioneers followed with a turnover. Box Elder held for the last shot, a would-be game winner, but good defense by the Pioneers forced a tough triple that fell short by The Boy.
The Pioneers are not a deep team, while the Bears can sub several players and not miss a beat. This proved to be the biggest difference, as both Hanson and Kaden Beck (starters) fouled out for Big Sandy. Beck fouled out at the end of the first overtime, while Hanson fouled out at the beginning of the third. Randall Gardipee also fouled out for the Bears, but their bench stepped up and filled the void.
Once in the third overtime, the Bears outscored the Pioneers 7-3. The game was tied at 84-84, but in the final two minutes the Bears combined for four made free throws and earned a Thomas Parisian two-point field goal to crawl away from the Pioneers 89-85.
“We do what we do,” MacDonald said. “We press and push the tempo, and we believe in our depth. For the most part, Big Sandy plays five guys and we figured that some point that if we can get to their bench we would have the advantage because of our depth.
“We are in good shape,” Gardipee added. “We should be able to play in these games. We have been in this situation before, we have the experience and we just had to believe in ourselves after we let up in the third quarter. We gave up too much dribble penetration, but we pulled it out.”
There were 12 lead changes in the game, as well as 11 ties throughout. Both teams gave up several runs of points, and found it very hard to get stops with their defenses.
The Bears shot over 42 percent from the field and put up 73 shots. The Pioneers shot nearly 45 percent from the field and shot the ball 76 times. But the Bears knocked down 10 treys compared to the Pioneers' five, while the Bears also knocked down 17 free throws compared to the Pioneers' 12. The game was very well balanced all the way around, but the Bears got the edge where they needed it. The Bears out-rebound the Pioneers 47-42 and also turned the ball over three less times, 22 compared to 25. Box Elder also scored 21 points off of turnovers while the Pioneers scored 20.
Box Elder was led by Morsette Jr. with 27 points, while Gardipee and Plain Bull Jr. both finished with 17. The Boy also finished with 12, while Parisian finished with 10.
Big Sandy was led by Hanson and Lackner, both with 23 points, while Beck, Bailey, and Leader all scored 13 points a piece.
The Bears earned a spot in the Northern C in Great Falls this week, while the Pioneers will now play in a challenge game tonight at 6 against the Chinook Sugarbeeters. The game will be played at the Havre High gymnasium in Havre.
9C Boys Challenge Game set for tonight at 6 at HHS gym
Box Elder 89, Big Sandy 85 (3OT)
Big Sandy 14 9 29 25 8 7 3 — 85
Box Elder 21 14 18 14 8 7 7 — 89
Big Sandy — Jerry Hanson 23, Trevor Lackener 23, Kaden Beck 13, Zac Leader 13, Jessey Bailey 13. Totals: 34-76 12-22 85.
Box Elder — Brandon The Boy 11, Clayton Morsette Jr. 27, Randal Gardipee 17, Quinn Baker 4, Thomas Parisian 10, Lonnie Plainbull Jr. 17, Lee Webster 1, Kylee Fiddler 2. Totals: 31-73 17-25 89.
Halftime: Chinook 35-23. 3-pointers: Big Sandy 5-14 (Hanson 3), Box Elder 10-29 (Morsette Jr. 5, Plain Bull Jr. 3). Rebounds: Big Sandy 47 (Lackner 17), Box Elder 42 (Morsette Jr. 10, Gardipee 10). Fouls: Big Sandy 21, Box Elder 22. Fouled out: Hanson, Beck, Gardipee.