By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
BILLINGS - Forgive Jayce Lambert for not talking more, but he had some celebrating to do.
The Brockton senior cut short his postgame interview to join his Warrior teammates on the floor of the Billings Metra as they celebrated a 66-64 win over top-ranked Big Sandy in the Class C State Championship.
"It's a great feeling," Lambert said excitedly after the game. "I'm sorry but I want go celebrate with my teammates."
Instead, Lambert let his play do all of the talking. With his high-scoring teammate, Tyson Bauer bottled up by Big Sandy's diamond-and-one defense and point guard Casey Weston being shut out in the second half, Lambert put the Warriors squarely on his gangly 6-3 frame and carried them down the stretch.
With his team trailing 40-39 midway through the third quarter, Lambert sparked a 12-0 run with a pair of three-pointers and two tough baskets inside as Brockton roared back in front of a frenzied capacity crowd.
It was a run that the Pioneers would never recover from. Big Sandy didn't run the table in the regular season without coming back from some deficits.
The Pioneers cut the lead to 61-60 on a Jay Jamieson runner and three-pointer and a Gage Brumwell score inside. But Bauer answered with one of his few open looks to push the lead back to three with 1:46 remaining.
Perhaps Lambert's only mistake came with his team up 65-61 when he fouled Jamieson on a three-point attempt on the wing with 38.4 seconds left in the game. Jamieson, who is Big Sandy's leading free-throw shooter, made just one of the three attempts to cut the lead to 65-62.
Big Sandy was able to get a defensive stop and Brumwell found Ophus wide open underneath the basket for an easy score to cut the lead to 65-64. The Pioneers were forced to foul and Bauer sank one of two free throws.
Down two points, the Pioneers called timeout to get one last play. However, there was a miscommunication between Brumwell and Jamieson as the Pioneers tried to break the press. Brumwell's pass bounced away from Jamieson, who dove on the floor and eventually fouled Miles Boxer with 3.2 seconds remaining. Boxer missed both of the subsequent free throws, but Jamieson's three-quarter-court heave was off.
"We had our opportunities to win that game," said Big Sandy head coach Roy Lackner. "That's the thing in a championship game, you can't turn the ball over that many times."
Big Sandy committed 18 turnovers in the game - 11 in the second half - with many of them being very uncharacteristic of the way the Pioneers have played this season. They also hurt themselves by making just seven of 13 free throws.
"Free throws and turnovers," Lackner said. "I would've won every state championship game I've played in - that's seven or eight of them - if we made our free throws."
Neither were a problem for the Pioneers early on as they dominated the first quarter, rolling to a 24-18 lead. Big Sandy exploited Brockton's man-to-man defense, running back picks and throwing lob passes over the top of the defense for easy layups.
"We were pretty comfortable against they man-to-man and were getting what we wanted," Lackner said. "But the switched to the zone and we never did get on track with it."
Although his team never played a 2-3 zone this season, Brockton head coach Brent Nygard knew he had to do something after watching Brumwell and Mason Ophus have their way inside early.
"They are so big and strong inside," Nygard said. "They kept running that same back pick on us and we weren't helping out. We went to the zone and they missed some open three-pointers. Our kids really started getting confident and extending it."
Defensively, Big Sandy was equally as stingy. After watching Bauer score 41 points in a first-round game, and score 37 in the semifinals, including eight three-pointers, Lackner went to the diamond-and-one defense with Adam Jesperson shadowing Bauer. It was largely effective as Bauer was relatively quiet in the first half, scoring just five points. Weston and Lambert picked up the slack, scoring 15 and 11 points in the first half.
Big Sandy adjusted in the second half to shut out Weston and still force Bauer to work for every shot. But that left Lambert the next option.
"We knew it was coming," Nygard said of Big Sandy's defense. "We knew Tyson wasn't going to score 30 points this game. They played that box-and-one defense and Jayce was the open man. He had an excellent game."
Indeed, Lambert was everywhere while scoring a game-high 25 points, grabbing seven rebounds and coming up with four steals.
Bauer finished with 16 hard-earned points, while Weston added 16 to give Brockton it's first-ever Class C state championship.
Big Sandy got 18 points from Jamieson, including four three-pointers. Brumwell scored 17 points, grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds and dished out seven assists. Ophus also scored 17 points in Big Sandy's only loss of the season. It's one that is going to sting the Pioneers for a while.
"Our goal wasn't to win 25 games this season, it was to win 26," Lackner said. "Being second is great. I'm sure a lot of other teams would be happy with being second. But right now we're not happy with being second."
Said Brumwell: "We've been looking forward toward this situation since we were in sixth grade and to come up two points short, it just hurts."
Big Sandy 51, Melstone 35 (semifinal)
The Pioneers overcame an upset-minded Melstone Bronc squad in Friday's semifinal with a 51-35 win. Melstone slowed the pace of play to a crawl to offset the Pioneers superior size.
Big Sandy held a 16-10 lead at half time and extended it in the third quarter, outscoring Melstone 17-10.
Jamieson scored a game-high 16 points, including four three-pointers, while Brumwell added 15 points and 17 rebounds for Big Sandy.
Brockton 66, Big Sandy 64
Big Sandy 24 7 13 20 - 64
Brockton 18 19 14 15 - 66
Big Sandy (25-1) - Skylar Pearson 2-5 0-0 5, Gage Brumwell 7-16 3-4 17, Mason Ophus 8-12 1-1 17, Adam Butler 0-1 0-0 0, Adam Jesperson 3-5 1-1 7, Jay Jamieson 6-14 2-7 18, Devin Genereux 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 26-54 7-13 64.
Three-point goals: 5-16 (Pearson 1, Jamieson 4). Rebounds: 36 (Brumwell 13). Assists: 18 (Brumwell 7). Turnovers: 18. Blocked shots: 1 (Brumwell 1). Steals: 5 (Jamieson 3). Total fouls: 15. Fouled out: None.
Brockton (26-1) - Tyson Bauer 6-19 4-5 16, Jayce Lambert 10-17 2-2 25, Miles Boxer 1-2 2-5 4, William Big Talk 1-2 0-2 2, Jarid Fast Horse 2-5 0-0 4, Casey Weston 4-14 6-18 1-2 15. Totals: 26-63.
Three-point goals: 5-17 (Lambert 3, Weston 2). Rebounds: 35 (Lambert 7). Assists: 10 (Weston 5). Turnovers: 13. Blocked shots: 0. Steals: 11 (Bauer 4, Lambert 4). Total fouls: 17. Fouled out: Lambert.
Big Sandy 51, Melstone 35
Melstone 5 5 10 15 - 35
Big Sandy 9 7 17 18 - 51
Melstone (22-3) - Adam Weisz 3-16 2-2 9, Chase Cameron 3-9 0-0 8, Trey Hanson 4-10 0-1 8, Kale Eike 1-7 3-4 6, Art Kincheloe 0-7 0-0 0, Justin Kincheloe 2-4 0-1 4, Luiz Bezerra 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 13-53 5-8 35.
Three-point goals: 4-24 (Weisz 1, Cameron 2, Eike 1). Fouls: 16. Fouled out: Cameron. Turnovers: 11. Steals: 4 (A. Kincheloe 2). Assists: 7 (Eike 3). Blocks: 1 (Eike 1). Rebounds: 34 (Hanson 10).
Big Sandy (25-0) - Skylar Pearson 2-6 0-0 5, Gage Brumwell 7-16 1-3 15, Mason Ophus 3-3 3-6 9, Adam Jesperson 1-3 1-2 4, Jay Jamieson 5-12 4-4 16, Adam Butler 1-2 0-3 2, Devin Genereux 0-1 0-0 0, Justin Willis 0-0 0-0 0, Aaron Andrade 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 19-43 9-18 51.
Three-point goals: 9-18 (Brumwell 1, Ophus 3, Jesperson 1, Jamieson 4). Fouls: 13. Turnovers: 10. Steals: 4 (Jamieson 2). Assists: 10 (Jamieson 4). Blocks: 3 (Brumwell 2). Rebounds: 37 (Brumwell 17, Ophus 8).