It is round two for the Havre High boys basketball team and two conference opponents this weekend.
Sitting at 2-6 overall and 1-2 in the Central A, the Blue Ponies host two conference rivals this weekend. Tonight, the Ponies will welcome in the first-place Belgrade Panthers (6-4, 4-0), and on Saturday, the Ponies host the third-place Livingston Rangers (2-7, 2-2). Both games are being played at the Havre High gymnasium in Havre, tipoff will be at 6:30 p.m. tonight and 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.
The Ponies first faced the Panthers and Rangers early in the year, in the second week of the season. HHS played well in both matchups, but lost both games by narrow margins. Belgrade beat Havre 62-60 in overtime, while Livingston beat Havre 52-44.
Even after two losses, the Ponies know how important these two Central A games are, and know they are entering two winnable matchups.
“These are very important conference games,” Havre High head coach Curt Leeds said. “If we win both of these games it will put us in second place in the conference. It will also give us a chance to pass Belgrade depending on how they do against Browning and Livingston. And they are winnable games, I think this conference is wide open, and we had a chance to beat both of these teams on the road, but we had a couple of missed opportunities. We definitely have a chance to beat both teams, we just have to execute.”
The game plan hasn’t changed much for the Ponies from one week to the next this season. But after facing both teams already, the Ponies do have a better idea of what they have to do to turn the tables.
Belgrade is great shooting squad. Jeremy Ragar, Trevor Mahn, and Brandon Karnath all scored double digits in the first meeting with Havre, and did the majority of their damage from behind the 3-point arc. HHS forced the Panthers to shoot from outside, contesting the shots, but quickly found out that is a strength of Belgrade. This time around the Ponies will look to force the guards to put the ball on the floor and attempt to get inside.
The Rangers also have their secret weapon in big man Marcus Payne. Payne (6-7) posted a game-high 21 points on the Ponies and will have to be limited if they want to earn a win this time around. The defense will be key, more specifically, how Kade Rismon, Dane Warp, and Thurman Holdsclaw handle Payne’s presence inside.
Both the Panther and Ranger defenses gave the Ponies fits last time around as well.
They both ran a 1-3-1 zone against the Ponies, and that was the first time facing that style for HHS. The Blue Ponies didn’t play poorly against the look, but they did take time to adjust. If that is what the HHS offense runs into again, it is going to take a solid effort all around to be successful. Rismon and Warp lead the offense this season, but Holdsclaw, Ramsey Drew, Nate Rismon and Brian Smith will also have to find ways to get in the book.
“We have added a lot more sets since Christmas break,” Leeds said. “And it does take time to develop a motion offense. But we have been running a lot more sets, and I think that has helped our boys with spacing on the court and knowing where they need to be on the court.”
The Panthers and Rangers are two tough squads, but beatable. HHS has to play well all the way around and can’t make too many mistakes, especially in the form of turnovers. Coach Leeds said the Ponies are looking to play more aggressive this weekend, as well as want to play more active in their defensive press. The Ponies will look to speed up the game with their defense, hopefully forcing turnovers, while offensively they slow down the game and find the easiest, highest percentage shot, inside or out.
HHS will face Belgrade tonight at 6:30 p.m. and Livingston Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Both games will be played at the Havre High gymnasium. The Ponies are on the road Monday for a makeup game at Browning.