Havre Daily News
The Havre High boys basketball team will take the floor tonight with a little extra motivation when the Ponies host the Lewistown Eagles at the HHS gymnasium. They will look to knock off their archrivals, as well as redeem themselves for their less-than-stellar performance last Saturday in a loss to Butte Central.
“The kids were not very happy with the way they performed against Butte Central,” HHS head coach Jon Barnhorst said. “We had a very good week of practice, and the kids are really motivated to prove that they can play a lot better than we did our last time out.”
The Ponies should need no extra motivation for this game, as the Eagles (3-5 overall, 1-2 conference) trail the Ponies by just one game in the loss column in the Central A standings. A Havre loss would mean the Ponies lose their grip on second place in the conference race.
The Ponies are in the midst of a homestand that is going to have a large bearing on the outcome of their conference record, as they play their next three conference games at home. The Ponies cannot afford to lose a conference game at home, especially considering the fact they still face the daunting task of road trips to Butte, Browning and Lewistown before the season is over.
So to say this is a big game for Havre would be a slight understatement.
“It's always important to win conference games at home. We have to protect our home court,” Barnhorst said. “We have a stretch of conference games at home and it's crucial that we find a way to win them. We have to take care of business at home.”
If the Ponies plan on being successful tonight, one area they must improve on is the turnover department. The Ponies are averaging 17.6 turnovers per game this season, a number that must come down if the Ponies are to be serious contenders for the Central A crown.
“We just need to play better at the offensive end of the floor,” Barnhorst said. “We need to cut back on turnovers and be more efficient, because we don't have people who can score at will on offense.”
The Ponies are led by top scorers Jeremy Giardina, who leads the Ponies with 18.1 points per game, and Jared Weigel, who averages 16.6 points per game and leads the team in rebounds with 9.6 per game.
The Eagles will counter the talented duo with a pair of their own double-digit scorers in Evan Stokken, who leads the Eagles in scoring with 15.9 points per game, and Colby Tognetti, who puts in 12.8 points a game. Havre will also look to establish 6-8 senior center Mike Barton, who averages 7.4 points per game and 7.9 rebounds per game. A big game from Barton could be enough to give the Ponies the upper hand in what appears to be a fairly even matchup.
“We need to establish the inside game,” Barnhorst said. “We are going to make a point of emphasis to get the ball inside and execute better offensively.”
On Saturday night, the Ponies will head into hostile territory as they travel down the Hi-Line to take on the Malta Mustangs in a nonconference battle.
On paper, the Ponies appear to be the better team, but games are not played on paper. Teams like Malta can often be dangerous, especially on their home floor.
What makes this game look even more like a trap game for the Ponies is the fact that they will either be coming off a big win against Lewistown or an even bigger loss. Either result will make it difficult for the Ponies to avoid a letdown when they face the Mustangs, especially on the road in what is a very tough venue.
The Ponies do have a clear advantage over the Mustangs in size as Malta does not have anyone quite as big as Barton.
“We think that we are going to have a good opportunity to establish some things down low for Mike,” Barnhorst said. “Hopefully we can get him going a little bit and maybe he can gain some confidence and open things up a little bit more on the perimeter for us.”
If the Ponies can establish Barton and open things up for outside shooters like Weigel and Giardina, it may be a long night for the Mustangs. This Pony team is determined to prove it is better than it played last weekend and is ready to respond to the challenge that has been placed in front of it.
“I think the kids have been a little bit more motivated this week in practice,” Barnhorst said. “I don't think it comes from having a chip on their shoulder or anything like that. I think it has more to do with them feeling that they didn't play very well last weekend and them wanting to show everyone that we can play better than that, and that we are much better than we played.”
Tonight's game between Havre and Lewistown will tip off at 7:30 at the HHS gymnasium. Saturday's game in Malta will get under way at 5 p.m.