By George Ferguson
If Havre High junior swingman Cory Brothers was slumping coming into Thursday night's matchup with the Great Falls High Bison, he certainly isn't anymore as he scored a school record 51 points in leading the Ponies to a stunning 80-73 win over the Bison at the Havre High gymnasium.
Brothers scored 27 of his 51 points in the first half and shot a scorching 9-14 from the three-point line in the contest. He was also 10-11 from the free-throw line enroute to his record setting night. Brothers' 51 points broke a ten-year old school record previously held by Jason Wirt, who in December of 1992 scored 45 points against Anaconda in the Central A tip-off tournament in Butte. Former Havre High girl's star Loree Payne also scored 45 points in a contest during her storied career. When asked of his record setting night, Brothers was quick to credit hard work over the last week.
"I was not shooting the ball well at all the last couple of games," Brothers said. "I have been working really hard on my shot the last week in practice and in my free time. And tonight I hit a couple of threes early and just got hot from there."
Havre head coach Mark West was also very quick to praise Brothers' accomplishments.
"To score 51 points against anybody is incredible," West said. "But to do it against a AA school like Great Falls High is really special. If anyone deserves it, it is Cory because I doubt that anyone in the state works harder on their game than he does."
On top of Brothers magical night, the Ponies also pulled out a critical win that pushed their record to 5-4 and also moved them out of a three-way tie with Dillon and Anaconda in the Central A standings.
West is fully aware of the implications of the win and what his team accomplished against the Bison.
"This is a huge win for us because it was the first time all season that we were able to really click offensively and execute the things we wanted to do." West said. "The whole team played phenomenal and I am just really proud of our guys right now."
The game itself started off with the Bison opening up with a 6-2 run to start things off. But Brothers singlehandedly kept his team in the game as he scored all 16 of Havre's first quarter points. Trailing 13-11 with a minute left in the period, Brothers was on the receiving end of a perfect alley-oop from Trent Normandy that sent the crowd into a frenzy. It was a noise that would not let up the rest of the night.
Less than twenty seconds later he hit his fourth three-pointer of the quarter to give the Ponies a 16-14 lead. The pace of the game picked up in the second period as Brothers and Bison star senior Brian Lynch continued to trade baskets. Brothers scored 11 more points in the period behind two more three's and Lynch hit three three-pointers in the quarter enroute to his 19 first-half points. With Brothers on fire, his Pony teammates also started hitting from the outside as well. Normandy and Steve Heberly drilled three's in the quarter that helped the Ponies stake a 44-39 halftime lead.
"We played a great first half of basketball offensively," West said. "You could just really start to see the confidence growing in our kids as time went on in the game. I think they really were starting to believe that they could pull this off."
And the intermission did nothing to slow down Brothers or the Ponies. Brothers hit two more three-pointers in the period and the Ponies also started to go inside to Ryan Lusin and Bret Magelssen. Havre outscored the Bison 15-12 in the third period to stretch their lead to eight at 59-51 going into the final eight minutes.
In the final period the intensity grew to a fever pitch, with the crowd making deafening noise. The Ponies used that emotion to go on a 10-0 run to push the lead to 70-55 with four minutes left in the game. But Lynch and the Bison did not die, they in turn ripped off 14-straight points in less than two minutes to cut the lead 71-68 with under two minutes left to play.
However, Brothers and his teammates were not going to be denied.
GFH was forced to put Havre on the free-throw line in the final two minutes, and the Ponies sealed the Bison fate. Brothers added an exclamation point on the win by picking up a loose ball and throwing down one final thunderous dunk just before time expired.
Both Brothers and Normandy were extremely proud of the win and credited the entire team for the win.
"This was such a huge win for us tonight," Normandy said. "I think the whole team was playing together and Cory's dunk in the first quarter really got the crowd into it. I have never heard this gym that loud and it was a lot of fun."
Said Brothers: "We know how big this win was for us. I think this shows that if we play together like we did tonight, we can play with anybody out there."
While Brothers record setting night catapulted the Ponies to the win, West also believes that it was the defensive play of two of his players may have been the biggest factor in the game.
"I think the biggest key in the entire game is that we were able to shut Lynch down in the second half," West said. "Both Steve Heberly and Curt Leeds did a wonderful job defending him and if it were not for their efforts defensively I don't know if we would have pulled this one out."
To go along with Brothers 51, Havre got nine points from Lusin - two of which were crucial free throws in the final minute of the game - as well as six apiece from Heberly and Normandy. Lynch led the way for Great Falls High with 27 points while Cody Gillespie and Josh Saunders had 15 points each.
The loss drops the Bison's record to 2-4 on the season and now they will have to defeat the Ponies in Great Falls on Feb. 7 in order to retain the Ole Goat. While Normandy and the Ponies aren't looking ahead, the prospect of getting the goat back is an enticing one.
"It may not mean much to them," Normandy said. "But the Ole Goat means everything to us and I am excited that we have a shot at it."
The Ponies will now have a full week of rest before they travel to Harlem on Thursday. They will also host Glasgow on Saturday night.