Havre Daily News
The Havre High boys basketball team has had such a hard time winning at the CMR Fieldhouse in recent history that it is likely few can name the actual date the Ponies last won there.
In fact, winning at the fieldhouse is such a tall order that old St. Nick himself probably couldn't help the Ponies claim victory.
Yet, if the Ponies are able to beat the Rustlers in their own gym when they meet tonight at 7:30, it would make for a wonderful early Christmas present.
The Ponies come into the contest 3-0 in Central A Conference play, and 3-2 overall.
The Rustlers are going to pose a challenge different from any the Ponies have faced so far this season with their physical play and suffocating defense.
“They are a very physical basketball team,” HHS head coach John Barnhorst said. “They are strong inside and they rebound extremely well.”
A week ago the Ponies gave up 14 offensive rebounds to another Class AA opponent, Great Falls High, and if the Ponies intend to have a chance to win tonight, they will need to rebound much better.
“The Bison dominated us on the boards,” Barnhorst said. “And CMR is much more physical than they were, so we are going to have to be physical inside.”
The Rustlers are led by Kelvin Steele, who notched 14 points and 11 boards against the Ponies a year ago. He provides that physical presence down low that the Ponies have had a tough time dealing with so far this season.
The Ponies will look to keep him away from the basket and force him to play on the perimeter, where he is less comfortable.
“Steele is probably their most talented player,” Barnhorst said. “He is strong and physical and he scores around the basket. We need to keep him out of the paint and force him to shoot from the perimeter, which is not one of his strengths.”
Havre will also have to deal with 6-8 Brad Goodman, who is a hard-nosed player who doesn't mind mixing it up a little bit.
The Ponies will counter with a 6-8 player of their own in Mike Barton, who is going to play a huge role in keeping players like Steele and Goodman from dominating the game down low.
Jared Weigel will also be counted on to hit the boards hard and bring some much-needed toughness to the HHS lineup.
“Jared and Mike can match up with them down low,” Barnhorst said. “It is just going to be a matter of playing solid post defense.”
Another challenge the Ponies are likely to face is an in-your-face, man-to-man defense, which will be a shift from the zone looks the Ponies have seen a lot early on in the season.
“They are going to get up in our face and defend us,” Barnhorst said. “It will be interesting to see how we handle that kind of pressure.”
A big key to handling that pressure successfully will be shifty point guard Jeremy Giardina, who is leading the Ponies in scoring.
Giardina will be relied upon not only to score, but also to create open looks for others by creating off the dribble.
“Hopefully Jeremy can get some penetration off the dribble and open things up for our shooters,” Barnhorst said. “It is going to be important that we shoot the ball well from the perimeter in order to loosen things up inside.”
Defensively, the Ponies' main focus will be to try and collapse their defense around the Rustlers' inside scorers to limit easy baskets, and force the Rustlers to beat them with their perimeter shooting, an area that is not really one of the Rustlers' strong points.
“Our inside defense will be a big key because they are going to try and pound it inside against us,” Barnhorst said. “We have to force them to shoot shots from the perimeter.”
Tonight's game figures to come down to whoever is going to be more physical and which team can find some offensive consistency in a game where points could be hard to come by.
“We are going to depend on defense and rebounding like we have all year,” Barnhorst said. “It's going to be a tough test for us and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.”
Tonight's matchup between CMR and Havre High is set to tip off at 7:30 at the CMR Fieldhouse in Great Falls.