Havre Daily News sports editor
It was bound to happen sooner or later. Even first-year Turner boys basketball head coach Kevin Keller could see it coming. Keller could envision the day when the Turner Tornadoes would finally get over the hump in the District 9C tournament.
That day came on Keller's first try, as fifth-seeded Turner drubbed fourth-seeded Big Sandy, 71-43, Wednesday afternoon in the final opening-round game of the 2006 District 9C tournament in Havre.
“It is really exciting to finally get a win in the first round,” Keller said. “We believed coming in that we could do it, and this is a big thing for our school and our community.”
The Tornadoes had gone two-and-out in the district tournament in each of the last five seasons. But on Wednesday, they didn't just win a first-round game, they did it emphatically.
“I think we played so well because we played very hard,” Keller said. “That is what I am most proud of. We also played with a lot of confidence out there, and confidence is always a big thing at tournament time. It didn't hurt that we were playing well coming into the tournament too.”
The game, from Big Sandy's point of view, could be summed up in three words - field goal percentage. The Pioneers shot a dismal 29 percent from the field and went through two different seven-minute stretches where they didn't convert a single field goal attempt.
“What I know is that we will play better the next time,” Big Sandy head coach Roy Lackner said. “Because we can't play any worse than we did today.
“But what it really came down to is that we couldn't make a basket,” he added. “Then we got way behind and we still couldn't make a shot. You're not going to win basketball games when that happens.”
If the game appeared to be headed for a blowout, it looked as if the Pioneers would be on the right end of that scenario in the first four minutes.
Big Sandy jumped out to an 8-2 lead and appeared poised to make a run at the semifinals.
“It was scary at the beginning,” Keller said. “You almost felt like here we go again. But the kids didn't lose their heads when we got behind, and our defense started to take control of the game from that point on.”
Indeed, Turner senior Dalton Cornell hit four straight buckets to pull his team ahead, 11-9. The 9-0 spurt seemed harmless at the time, but what ensued over the next 10 minutes was anything but harmless to the Pioneers. It was downright devastating.
From the two-minute mark of the first period to the 3:26 mark of the second quarter, Turner outscored Big Sandy 20-0 to make it 31-10. Overall, Turner scored an amazing 29 unanswered points in the stretch, mostly coming on easy layups from Cornell and junior Chad Jones.
The Pioneers' offense was rendered completely inept during the Turner run and their defense was equally helpless, as Turner seemingly scored at will in the paint.
By the time the onslaught of the first half came to an end, the Tornadoes led 35-14 and Big Sandy looked shellshocked heading into the halftime break.
“I think the biggest key was that we handled their press and we rebounded the basketball well,” Keller said. “The first two times we played them this season, we didn't do a good enough job in those areas and today we did an excellent job in both areas.
“We also played really solid man defense,” he added. “And Big Sandy just really struggled shooting the ball. That was pretty much the story of the game.”
As much as Big Sandy didn't phone the game in the second half, there was no doubt the Pioneers were demoralized by what happened in the game's first 16 minutes.
The Pioneers went through another scoring drought in the third quarter, and things seemed to get even easier for Turner on the offensive end of the floor. Chad Jones and Cornell continued to light up the scoreboard in the second half, as Turner outscored Big Sandy 38-17.
When the game was out of hand in the fourth quarter, Keller went to his bench to play seldom-used players like Garrett Maloney, Kale Baldik and Stanley Hofer.
The mass substitutions signaled the end of an era in Turner boys basketball, as the Tornadoes were on the winning end of a lopsided tournament game for the first time in any of the current players' careers.
“It is just awesome for the kids to get a win like this,” Keller said. “A lot of these guys have been through some tough games in this tournament, and they worked very hard this season to get to this point.”
Cornell led all scorers with 26 points and he pulled down 14 rebounds. Chad Jones added 19 points, and Logan Fouts chipped in with 13. The Pioneers got nine points from Justin Willis in the losing effort.
With the loss, Big Sandy falls to Friday's loser-out game at 1 p.m. when the Pioneers will face the loser of tonight's game between Box Elder and Hays-Lodge Pole. “I think we'll be OK,” Lackner said. “This team plays hard and they won't quit. I still believe that if we shoot the ball better, we're a tough team to beat.”
Meanwhile, the Tornadoes will play in today's semifinal against top-seeded North Star at 1 p.m.
“We don't match up with North Star very well,” Keller said. “The first time we played them, we really struggled. We got a little closer the second time around. Maybe the third time will be ours.”
Tornadoes 71, Pioneers 43
Big Sandy 10 6 10 17 - 43
Turner 17 16 23 15 - 71
Big Sandy - Darrin Ray 2, Karl Osterman 5, Chris LaBuda 5, Jon Sheehy 2, Justin Willis 9, Kyle Danreuther 4, Ryne LaBuda 7, Lawrence Jappe 4, Trevor Darlington 3, Logan Darlington 4. Totals: 19 3-11 43,
Turner - Logan Fouts 13, Chad Jones 19, Colin Jones 8, Dalton Cornell 26, Wayde Hofer 2, Taylor Fouts 2, Stanley Hofer 1. Totals: 26 18-30 71.
3-pointers - Big Sandy 2 (Sheehy 1, R. LaBuda 1); Turner 1 (Chad Jones 1); Total fouls - Big Sandy 23, Turner 8; Fouled out - Sheehy.