Havre Daily News
With their season hanging in the balance, the North Star Knights rose to the occasion on Monday night and defeated the Box Elder Bears in the challenge game at the District 9C tournament in Havre.
The Knights withstood a third-quarter run by Box Elder that tied the game. At the end, the Knights had an impressive 55-42 victory and will advance to the Northern C divisional tournament this week in Great Falls.
“We told the kids at halftime that if we were going to win that we would have to withstand a couple of runs in the second half,” North Star head coach Charlie Robinson said. “My philosophy is usually to let the players make their own decisions, but after their run I had to change the decisions they were making.
“They responded well and we were able to withstand their charge at us,” he added. “I just told our team at halftime that a lot of things can happen to you, but no matter what, you have to respond because that's what good teams do, regardless of what happens.”
Box Elder head coach Gus Bacon gave credit to the North Star team.
“We had success early on in the season with the same defense and we were able to slow down Cody Donoven and Branden Melby,” Bacon said. “We just didn't want those guys to beat us. We wanted to make the rest of their players beat us and they did. So, they were just a better team.”
Bacon added, “We just couldn't knock down our shots tonight. It wasn't that we didn't get good looks because we did. We just couldn't convert and that cost us.”
After winning the 9C regular-season conference championship, the top-seeded Knights entered the tournament as the favorite to take home the title. However, after being upset in the championship game by Hays-Lodge Pole on Saturday night, they were forced to play a challenge game to advance to the Northern C divisional.
Box Elder, which finished second in the district, also fell victim to an upset by HLP and had to battle its way through the consolation bracket simply for the opportunity to challenge North Star.
The Bears came into the Monday's game hoping to slow down the Knights' star, Cody Donoven, and early on that was exactly what they did, holding him scoreless in the first quarter.
With the defense focused on containing Donoven, Darius Wendland was able to get free for 11 first-quarter points. North Star jumped out to a 19-12 lead at the end of the first quarter.
“They had two kids chasing Cody Donoven and Branden Melby everywhere,” Robinson said. “So we planned on Darius Wendland setting screens on them, allowing him to get open for a lot of shots, and he was able to take advantage of his opportunity.”
Wendland continued his solid play in the second quarter as his team extended its lead to nine points. But Box Elder's Aaron Henry responded late in the quarter, scoring five points in a short span to get his team within six points, 30-24, at halftime.
North Star had controlled the game throughout the first half, but after a Donoven basket stretched North Star's lead to 32-24 lead in the third quarter, Box Elder seriously threatened the Knights' lead for the first time.
Steven Arca scored on two straight possessions, sparking an 8-0 run that tied the game at 32-32. The momentum had completely shifted in the Bears favor.
With its lead gone, North Star was forced to regroup.
Shane Rice scored to break the drought. Donoven and Wendland each hit a couple of baskets and in the blink of an eye the Knights were back in control of the game. They went on a 12-1 run that put them ahead 44-33 and took the wind right out of Box Elder.
Early on in the fourth quarter, the Knights squashed any hope the Bears might have had of coming back by extending their lead to 49-34 via a 17-2 run that spanned two quarters of play.
Wendland led the way for the Knights with a game-high 22 points.
“They put two defenders around Cody and Branden, and so I set screens for them and I was able to get to the basket,” Wendland said. “It's feels great that we were able to get the win and move on. None of us have ever went to divisionals before so it's really exciting for us.”
Donoven pitched in with 12 points despite the Bears' swarming defense, and Melby scored 10 points under the same conditions.
Henry, whose thoughts were not entirely on basketball after a family tragedy, scored 13 points as he did his to play on.
“Aaron did all he could to focus on the game,” Bacon said. “He gave it all he could, but it definitely affected him and the rest of the team.
“I am just very proud of this team, they never quit even after we lost in the semifinals to Hays-Lodge Pole,” he added. “It is disappointing not to make divisionals, especially for the seniors because they expected to make it.”
The Knights will now move on to play Highwood on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. in the Northern C divisional tournament at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls. Hays-Lodge Pole will face Geraldine at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
“It was a good game between two very talented teams, and fortunately we were able to come out on top,” Robinson said. “Now, we are heading into divisionals playing with a lot of confidence. We don't have any pressure on us and we are going to be playing to win .”
Knights 55, Bears 42
Box Elder 12 12 9 9 - 42
North Star 19 11 12 13 - 55
Box Elder - Steve Arca 6, Aaron Henry 13, Dustin Bacon 10, Lane LaMere 2, Mike Sangrey Jr. 2, Austin Whitford 3, Joel Parker 3, Nathan Gardipee 3. Totals 13 4-11 42.
North Star - Stephan Ramsbacher 1, Darius Wendland 22, Branden Melby 10, Shane Rice 10, Cody Donoven 12. Totals 18 19-30 55.
3-pointers - Box Elder 4, (Henry 2, Parker, Gardipee) North Star 0; Total Fouls- Box Elder 25, North Star 11;Fouled out - Sangrey Jr.