Coming off of the best game the Havre High boys basketball team has played this season, the Blue Ponies are looking to build on their recent success. Now heading into the weekend with two winnable games, the Ponies will see if they can find some consistency.
The Central A Blue Ponies are coming off of a 57-43 romping of the Class B Malta Mustang
s. The Ponies played great basketball on both ends of the court and now hope that carries over as they take to the road for two very important conference games. Now sitting at 4-7 overall and 2-2 in the conference, the Ponies will face the Livingston Rangers today in Livingston and the Belgrade Panthers on Saturday in Belgrade.
“The big thing is that now we know what we are capable of,” Havre High head coach Andy Smith said. “After our win over Malta, we know we can play at a high level. We were working away from the ball, we were setting better screens to get people open, and we were just working better as a team.
“A lot of times confidence goes a long way in basketball.” Smith added. “When kids start playing with more confidence, they have a tendency to play better, so I think now that we are halfway into our season, we are getting used to playing together. Hopefully we just continue playing well from here on out and not make the mistakes we made in the first half of the year.”
Earlier in the season the Ponies split with the two squads. The Rangers defeated the Ponies 54-43, but the Ponies defeated the Panthers 43-40. If HHS can play like it did in the win over Malta, these two conference games could mean two much-needed wins for the Ponies.
And HHS is entering the weekend with a simple game plan, just play well on both sides of the ball.
The defense has been great for the Ponies this season, and if they can limit the Rangers and Panthers production, the Ponies like their chances. But while the defense holds steady, the Ponies’ offense needs to step up as well. Ryan Brandt and Brandon Smith will look to lead the way, but now Thurman Holdsclaw, Rydell Ruff and Justin Jensen should also look to be more involved after showing they are capable of scoring when needed.
“We beat Belgrade by three and lost to Livingston by 11,” Coach Smith said. “So we expect both games to be close once again. It is going to be tough playing on the road, and we know we are going to have to play well to get these wins. It is going to be a tough weekend.”
In the loss to the Rangers, the Ponies got off to a slow start, and found it very difficult to find high percentage shots against the very tough zone defense. The Rangers’ defense will be a handful again, but so will Marcus Payne, who hurt the Ponies’ defense down low. Payne is 6-6 and was 7-of-7 from the field the first time around.
“He is one of the best shooters in the conference,” Smith said. “And he just does a great job sealing you off. He just finds ways to finish at the basket and is a real nice player that is tough to matchup with. That makes that game especially difficult.”
Ruff, Kade Rismaon and Holdsclaw will get the opportunity to stop Payne this weekend. And if Holdsclaw can dominate the boards like he did in the Ponies’ last game, that will also help keep Payne from earning any easy buckets.
Belgrade will also be a tough opponent for the Ponies, as they gave HHS fits last time around all game long. The Ponies used their full court pressure to beat the Panthers and could lean on that again on Saturday as they attempt to limit scorers like Trevor Mahn and Mark Erickson.
“I know it is going to be tough,” Smith said. “But last time we played them I just don’t think we played real well. If we can play better on both sides of the ball I think this is a game we have a chance at winning.”
Overall, the Blue Ponies know how difficult this weekend is going to be. Conference games are always tough, and conference games on the road are even tougher. But if the Ponies can take what they did on Tuesday’s win over Malta and build on that moving forward, the Ponies may find a lot more success in the second half of the season.
Havre will face the Rangers on Friday in Livingston and the Panthers on Saturday in Belgrade.