By George Ferguson
A regular season that has featured the best and worst of times for the Havre High boys basketball team came to a dramatic end on Friday night. Junior Cory Brothers drilled a 12-foot jumper with 1.5 seconds remaining to give the Ponies a thrilling 72-70 come-from-behind win over the Browning Indians in Browning.
The victory caps off an impressive run for the Ponies in which they won five out of their last six regular- season games to capture the Central A Conference regular- season championship with a 10-8 record. It also ensures the Ponies the top seed at this week's Central A Divisional Tournament in Belgrade.
"This is a great accomplishment for this team," said Havre High head coach Mark West. "We have had a very tough schedule this season and to be 10-8 and conference champs at the end of it all says a lot about these kids and how hard they have worked.
"We also realize that there is a lot left for us to accomplish," West added. "Now that it is tournament time, anything can happen."
Brothers' final jumper capped off a 31-point fourth quarter in which the Ponies chipped away at a 56-41 deficit. With just a couple of minutes to play in the contest, Havre sophomore Marc Mariani knocked down a critical three-pointer to pull the Ponies to within three points. On the ensuing trip down the floor, Brothers nailed another three to tie the contest at 70. The Indians missed a chance to reclaim the lead on their next possession, giving the Ponies the ball back with just :30 remaining on the clock. The Ponies decided to play for one final shot out of their four-corners offense. With just seconds remaining, Brothers was able to penetrate and elevate over defenders to drill the game-winner. The final score was the only time the Ponies had the lead in the entire contest.
Before the game, West had stressed that it was important for his team to go to Browning and play well because they had not played particularly well on the road all season.
"To come back the way we did, scoring 31 points in the fourth quarter and pull out a win is a tremendous lift for this team," West said. "We wanted to make sure that we were playing well going into the divisional tournament and I think with this win and the fashion in which we did it says a lot about how we're playing right now."
For most of the contest, it appeared that Browning was going to spoil the Ponies' chance at winning a conference championship. The Indians raced out to a 26-13 first-quarter lead and continued their torrid shooting pace by outscoring Havre 19-16 in the second quarter to build a 45-29 halftime lead.
"Browning was very hot in the first half," West said. "I don't think we were playing badly at all. We were defending well and scoring, but they were shooting the lights out on us."
The Ponies then outscored Browning 12-11 in the third quarter to close the deficit and set up their impressive fourth-quarter heroics.
"In the second half the kids just realized that they needed to work a little harder defensively," West said. "I think we were able to take Browning out of their offense a little. From there, we just continued to do some good things offensively and Cory (Brothers) and Ryan Lusin were able to get us some quick points and help us come back."
Brothers' final shot capped off a game-high 34 points that included six three-point bombs. Lusin added 12 points and Trent Normandy chipped in with eight points, including two treys. The Indians were paced by Thunder Harris with 15 points, and Kelan Hall added 13 points in the loss.
The Ponies' victory sets up a first-round meeting with Livingston on Thursday night at the Central A Divisional Tournament in Belgrade.
Browning (10-8) will go into the tourney as the No. 3 seed and will face Anaconda in the first round.
The Central A tournament begins Thursday afternoon at the Belgrade Special Events Center. The Ponies will face Livingston at 6:30 p.m.