By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The beauty of a double-elimination basketball tournament is that even when a team loses one game, it still has the opportunity to make things right again.
On Saturday at the District 9C boys basketball tournament, the Box Elder Bears took full advantage of that opportunity by knocking off the KG KouGars, 53-45, to finish third and eventually earn the right to challenge the Hays-Lodge Pole Thunderbirds for a spot in the Northern C divisional tournament later this week.
After beating Blue Sky/J-I handily in loser-out action on Friday afternoon, the Bears took the floor on Saturday against KG, knowing that if they won and the Thunderbirds lost in the championship game then their season would be alive for at least another day.
Box Elder and KG played to a near standstill in the first quarter with Aaron Henry and Branden Melby trading baskets as KG led 15-14. But in the second period, it was the KouGars, who started to play like they were trying to keep their season alive. KG ran off 10 unanswered points, including a pair of 3-pointers from Melby and Drew Kapperud. The KouGars' always stingy defense also held Box Elder to one field goal and a total of three points in the period as KG opened up a 28-17 halftime lead.
Despite the deficit, Box Elder head coach Gus Bacon said that at halftime he stressed the same thing he has stressed all season to his young team - if they could play solid defense they would have a chance to beat any team in the 9C.
"Without a doubt defense has been where we win or lose games," Bacon said. "At halftime, we just talked about getting some stops early, because the kids have confidence in themselves offensively. So we knew that if we could slow KG down, we could come back."
One thing that was working for the Bears in the first half was their box-and-one defense on KG's leading scorer Cody Donoven. Donoven was held in check throughout the game, but the Bears never had an answer for Melby. Still, Box Elder point guard Aaron Henry felt slowing down Donoven was key to the Bears if they were going to come back in the second half.
"Stopping Donoven from scoring a lot of points was huge for us and we did a really good job on him," Henry said. "We knew we had to be good on defense to beat KG, and in the second half every guy on this team stepped it up and got it done defensively."
Indeed, the Bears fought their way back into the contest in the third quarter via some hard-nosed defense and the 3-point line. Henry opened the quarter with a trey, and Steve Arca and Chad Taylor also knocked in threes that pulled the Bears back to within two points, 35-33 heading into the fourth quarter.
Box Elder got KG in some foul trouble, which would ultimately hurt the KouGars down the stretch. The Bears took the lead with 3:59 to play on a Tyler Henry 3-pointer and they would hold onto that lead by making 11 of 16 free throws in the final three minutes of the game. KG's comeback efforts were hampered by the fact that Melby and Kapperud fouled out in the final minutes of the game.
"I am really proud of the way our kids fought back," Bacon said. "KG is a very good basketball team, but our kids stepped up and held their composure at the end of the game.
"We work hard in practice to distract our free-throw shooters," Bacon added. "And it paid off today, because both Tyler and Aaron knocked some important free throws down at the end of the game."
Aaron Henry scored a team-high 21 points to lead the Bears to victory and he also had a remarkable seven steals. But he was quick to give his teammates credit for the come-from-behind win.
"You have to say that guys like Steve Arca and Chad Taylor really stepped it up today," Henry said. "They played great defense and they made some big free throws. This is a big win for us and hopefully we'll get to keep playing."
KG got a valiant effort from Melby, who backed up his 18-point performance on Friday night by scoring a game-high 24 points. He also grabbed 11 rebounds. No other KouGars reached double figures in the loss.
Box Elder will now have a chance to advance to the Northern C divisional tournament later this week in Great Falls. The Bears will face Hays-Lodge Pole today at 6 p.m. at the Havre High gymnasium in a challenge game for second place.
"We did everything we could after the loss to Rocky Boy on Thursday," Bacon said. "The kids bounced back and played hard for two games, knowing that we still could have a chance to move on, and I am proud of this team for not giving up the whole way."
Box Elder 80, Blue Sky/J-I 34(lo)
Box Elder 13 28 19 20 - 80
Blue Sky/J-I 10 6 7 12 - 34
Box Elder - Tyler Henry 9, Dustin Bacon 2, Aaron Henry 4, Steve Arca 17, Chad Taylor 12, Lane LaMere 4, Jason Hawk 17, Steve Morsette 10, Jason Rainingbird 5. Totals 29 12-20.
Blue Sky/J-I - Conrad Wendland 10, Alex Chvilicek 9, Dane Kantorowicz 2, Craig Miller 6, Alex Frey 2, Brad Peterson 2, Richard Haven 3. Totals 11 8-29.
Total fouls - Box Elder 19, Blue Sky/J-I 15. Fouled out - Miller. 3-point goals - Henry, Arca, Taylor 3, Hawk 2, Morsette 2, Rainingbird.
KG 54, Big Sandy 41 (lo)
KG 11 8 19 16 - 54
Big Sandy 10 8 8 15 - 41
KG - Alden Moyer 2, Branden Melby 18, Drew Kapperud 9, Shane Rice 10, Cody Donovan 15. Totals - 19 11-19.
Big Sandy - Devin Genereux 5, Justin Willis 9, Kyle Danreuther 2, Chris LaBuda 13, Lawrence Jappe 13, Karl Osterman 3, Jon Sheehy 4. Totals - 15 6-12.
Total fouls - KG 11, Big Sandy 15. Fouled out - None. 3-point goals - Melby 1, Kapperud 3, Donovan 1, Willis 1, LaBuda 3, Osterman 1.
Box Elder 53, KG 45 (3rd)
KG 15 13 7 10 - 45
Box Elder 14 3 16 20 - 53
KG - Stephen Ramsbacher 2, Branden Melby 24, Drew Kapperud 9, Shane Rice 4, Cody Donoven 6. Totals 14 13-21.
Box Elder - Tyler Henry 10, Dustin Bacon 1, Aaron Henry 21, Steve Arca 14, Chad Taylor 3, Jason Hawk 4. Totals 15 16-25.
Total Fouls - KG 16, Box Elder 10. Fouled out - Melby, Kapperud, Rice. 3-point goals - Melby, Kapperud 3, T. Henry. A. Henry 2, Arca 2, Taylor, Hawk.