By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
Going into the biggest weekend of the year, every coach gives his team the first two days of the week of practice off.
Yeah right. No coach does that, well at least no coach accept Coach Carter in the movies and Box Elder's Gus Bacon.
The Bears didn't practice on Monday and Tuesday and it showed early during Wednesday's first-round game at boys District 9C tournament at the HHS gym.
Box Elder managed to shake off the rust to pick up a 68-60 win over the Big Sandy Pioneers.
"We had tutoring on Monday and Tuesday for the students so we didn't practice either day," Bacon said. "It showed because we were in a lull starting out."
Big Sandy was in anything but a lull. The Pioneers came out keyed up, rolling to a 13-4 lead as Chris LaBuda banged home a pair of 3-pointers to spark the run.
Box Elder was plagued by missed shots, turnovers and sloppy play. However, senior Aaron Henry brought the Bears out of their doldrums scoring 14 of the Bears next 18 points on a variety of drives and two 3-pointers to take a 24-21 lead.
"Aaron is a senior and knows when to step in and take control," Bacon said. "He's very effective getting to the basket and making things happen."
Box Elder's lead would be short-lived as both teams traded baskets and leads in a spirited, fast-paced first half that featured non-stop fast breaking. It looked as if they were headed for another 104-94 game that the two played in mid-January.
However, the breakneck pace took its toll on the shooting late in the first half as both team cooled some and were tied at 39 at halftime.
"We did what we wanted to in the first half," said Big Sandy head coach Roy Lackner. "We took it right at them. That's best way to play them, you can't hold the ball you have to go right at them. I thought we stopped doing that a little in the second quarter and it hurt us."
Neither team could replicate the torrid pace of the first half in the second half. Not that the game turned into a slow-paced one either.
Both teams picked their spots to run and the times to slow it up.
"We wanted to get the ball inside more," Bacon said. "We have a size advantage over them and we needed to use it. We were settling for way too many threes."
Box Elder responded with a 11-3 run out of halftime to push the lead to 50-42. But Big Sandy wasn't through. The Pioneers put together a 12-4 run of their own, punctuated by a pair of Chris LaBuda 3-pointers to tie the game at 54-54 at the end for the third quarter.
Big Sandy took its first lead of the second half as Devin Genereux scored a pair of buckets to open third quarter to go 58-55. With a four-point lead, Lackner called timeout and had his team spread the floor and run some clock.
The strategy worked early, but a missed a lay-up led to a Steve Arca score to cut the lead to 58-57. Big Sandy ran the offense to perfection on the next possession, getting an uncontested lay-up for LaBuda.
But the Pioneers fell apart. Box Elder scored on a bucked inside and then stole the inbounds pass which later led to a Tyler Henry 3-pointer.
A Big Sandy turnover in the offense led to a Dustin Bacon free throw and another miscue led to a Tyler Henry drive and a score to push the lead to 65-60.
Big Sandy simply couldn't get a shot to fall after that. Jayson Hawk added a putback and Chadd Taylor hit one of two free throws to seal the game.
"We wanted to spread it out and take some time," Lackner said. "But you can't make the mistakes we made down the stretch and expect to win."
After LaBuda's lay-up, Big Sandy didn't score for the final four minutes of the game.
"We've done that all season," Lackner said. "We just can't seem to finish teams off at the end. These kids have to learn how to win close games down the stretch."
Aaron Henry finished with 21 points to lead the Bears, while Dustin Bacon added 14 points and Tyler Henry chipped in with 10.
LaBuda led all scorers with 23 points, including five 3-pointers. Devin Genereux added 11 and Justin Willis had 10.
Box Elder 68, Big Sandy 60
Box Elder 24 15 15 14 - 68
Big Sandy 23 16 15 6 - 60
Box Elder - Tyler Henry 10, Dustin Bacon 14, Aaron Henry 21, Steven Arca 10, Chad Taylor 6, Jayson Hawk 7. Totals: 27 10-25 68.
Big Sandy - Devin Genereux 11, Justin Willis 10, Kyle Danreuther 3, Chris LaBuda 23, Lawrence Jappe 8, Karl Osterman 4, Darin Ray 1. Totals: 22 10-12 60.
Totals Fouls - Box Elder 18, Big Sandy 24. Fouled out - Willis, Jappe, Bacon. 3-point goals - T. Henry 2, A. Henry 2, LaBuda 5, Genereux 1.