By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sports/ firstname.lastname@example.org
GREAT FALLS - When the season began, Havre High boys basketball coach Mark West had some major concerns over his team's ability to consistently rebound the basketball. And on the eve of the Blue Ponies' matchup with top-ranked Class AA C. M. Russell, his concerns only grew after seeing how well the Rustlers played defensively.
Those two elements came together Thursday night in Great Falls and it spelled disaster for the Havre Blue Ponies as they were overwhelmed by the Rustlers 61-44 at the CMR Fieldhouse.
The Blue Ponies surrendered 40 rebounds to CMR while compiling just 20 themselves. Havre was particularly abysmal in the offensive rebounding category as the Rustlers (6-0) racked up 17 offensive boards, which led to a multitude of second chance points.
"It is definitely something that has hurt us all season long and it really hurt us badly tonight," West said of his team's rebounding woes. "What it comes down to, it is a matter of intensity and getting after it. And right now, we are not getting it done on the boards."
West's other main concern reared its head midway through a tightly contested third quarter when the Rustlers turned up the defensive pressure on the Ponies. It led to a disastrous finish for Havre.
In the beginning, things were looking pretty positive for the Ponies.
The two teams traded major runs in the game's first two quarters, starting with a 12-1 run by the Rustlers in the first period. In that stretch, senior point guard Travis Hartman scored eight of his team's 12 points to give the Rustlers a 17-12 first-quarter lead.
However, the Ponies were able to stay in the contest with four steals by Marc Mariani in the second period, which were all converted into points. The Ponies outscored CMR 9-8 in the second period and found themselves trailing by just four points, 25-21, at intermission.
"I thought we played a really smart first half of basketball," West said. "We were patient on offense and we took good shots and we were right in the game at halftime.
"And we got the third quarter off to a good start, but that is when CMR turned up the defensive pressure and they took the lead away from us. Things really fell apart for us from there," West added.
Actually, the Ponies couldn't have started the third period any better as senior Cory Brothers, who has been mired in a shooting slump, scored nine quick points in the first three minutes to open the second half, including two long-range three-pointers. Brothers' scoring spurt led the Ponies on an 11-4 charge and built a 32-29 lead with just over six minutes left in the period.
But the Rustlers were not ready to bow down to the Class A Ponies. Veteran head coach Mike McLean went to a full-court press after a timeout that resulted in two-straight Blue Pony turnovers and six straight Ryan Bagley points. By the time the third quarter ended the Rustlers had reeled off a 15-6 run since the time that Brothers drilled his last three-pointer.
Things would only get worse for the Ponies in the final stanza as CMR run ballooned to 25-6 before the Havre scoring drought ended with a Bret Magelssen turnaround jumper with three minutes remaining in the game. By that point Havre had succumbed to too many offensive boards and too many turnovers to have any hope of mounting a comeback.
"I thought that we played right with them for an extended part of the game," West said. "But in the second half our rebounding troubles continued and their defensive pressure caused us to make a lot of mistakes and commit a lot of turnovers."
"I liked our effort tonight for the most part," McLean said. "We didn't play particularly well at times and neither did Havre, so that made it a little easier on us.
"But we picked up an important win over a good basketball team tonight," McLean added. "And that is really important because we were able to do that without two key players from our starting lineup. I was really happy with how some of our other kids stepped up and showed me what they can do when they get a chance to play."
Senior Jon Buffington, who has been excellent in filling in for injured starter Don DeGooyer, was one of just two Rustlers in double figures,as he scored a game-high 15 points.
Bagley chipped in with 11 points and Tanner Lagge, who filled in for injured center Greg Gysberg chipped in with 8 points and an astounding 15 boards. Seven of Lagge's 15 rebounds came on the offensive end of the floor.
"Tanner Lagge played a great game tonight," McLean said. "His effort was tremendous defensively and he really got after the rebounds. I thought he did a really nice job tonight."
Meanwhile, the Ponies were paced by Brothers' 12 points. Jeremy Giardina chipped in with nine points and Mariani added eight in the losing effort. Aside from Havre's trouble on the boards they also committed 17 turnovers on the night, although the Rustlers weren't much better as Havre racked up 16 turnovers. Neither team shot the ball exceptionally well, with CMR at 50 percent and Havre at 43 percent.
"One of the things that we take away from this game is that the kids feel like they can beat this team," West said. "The way we played in the second half is a tough way to finish a game and CMR is a great team, but the kids definitely feel like they sort of let a big opportunity get away from them."
The Ponies (4-2) will be back in action Saturday night when they host Central A rival Lewistown (0-5) at 7:30 p.m. at the Havre High gymnasium.
C.M. Russell 61, Havre 44
CMR 17 8 20 16 - 61
Havre 12 9 17 6 - 44
Marc Mariani 3-6 0-0 8, Cory Brothers 4-13 2-3 12, Tyler Hedalen 0-3 0-0 0, Trent Normandy 0-2 0-0 0, Jeremy Giardina 4-6 0-0 9, Bret Magelssen 3-4 0-1 6, Jared Weigel 3-4 0-0 6, Tyson Parman 1-1 1-2 3, Patch Wirtzberger 0-2 0-0 0, Gary Wagner 0-1 0-1 0. Totals 18-42 3-8 44.
Lonnie Fulp 4-5 0-4 8, Ryan Bagley 5-11 1-4 11, Tony Forster 1-6 2-2 5, Travis Hartman 3-4 1-2 9, Jon Buffington 7-12 1-1 15, Jon Sybrant 1-2 0-1 2, Tanner Lagge 3-6 0-0 8, Austin Mullins 1-4 1-2 3, Kellan Carter 0-0 2-2 2. Totals: 25-50 8-18 61
Three-point goals: HHS 3-8 (Wirtzberger 0-1, Mariani 2-4, Normandy 0-2, Brothers 2-6, Normandy 0-1, Giardina 1-3, Hedalen 0-1, Weigel 0-1), CMR 3-13 (Fulp 0-1, Bagley 0-2, Forster 1-5, Hartman 2-2, Buffington 0-3). Rebounds: HHS 20 (Brothers 3); CMR 40 (Lagge 15, Buffington 6) Assists: HHS 5 (Brothers 2); CMR 10 (Hartman 3). Total fouls: HHS 13, CMR 14. Fouled out - none; Technical fouls - none.