By Tiffany L. Rehbein
The Box Elder Bears outscored the Rocky Boy Stars 12-0 during the final three minutes 20 seconds of the District 9C boys' basketball tournament en route to a 69-63 upset during first-round action in front of a packed house Thursday at the Havre High School gymnasium.
The fifth-seeded Bears used an aggressive press and free throws to overcome what was as much as a 10-point Rocky Boy lead in the fourth quarter.
With 2:00 remaining in the game and down 61-55, the Bears' Brandon Gopher snatched a steal in a full-court pressure situation and hit the layup which sparked the run.
Gopher poured in a game-high 19 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter.
The Bears went on to score seven points in 30 seconds, before calling their own time-out with 1:21 remaining in the game. The Bears held their first lead, a 62-61 margin, since early in the first quarter.
During the final minute of play, the Bears went 5-for-8 from the foul line to sew up the victory.
The fourth-seeded Stars stalled at 61 points for more than three minutes of play until Rocky Boy's Jesse Poolaw sunk two free throws with one second left in the game.
The first quarter ended with a Rocky Boy 17-16 lead. The Stars opened the game shooting a hot 55 percent in the first half and led 37-30 going into halftime.
It was an all-around effort for Rocky Boy, whose bench outscored Box Elder, 12-3 in the half.
However, the Bears held the Stars' bench to just two second-half points and capitalized on turnovers, scoring 24 points off Rocky Boy's mistakes.
Lenno Henderson added 11 points for Box Elder, while Kendall Parker chipped in 12 points. Parker, the inside strength at 6-foot-4, fouled out with more than two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Poolaw and Dustin Sunchild scored 15 points apiece for Rocky Boy. Mike Morsette chipped in 12 and Kyle MacDonald added 11 for the Stars.
During the regular season, the Stars defeated the Bears in both contests, 76-60 and 78-67. But the Stars have struggled of late, winning just one game in five starts.
The Bears, on the other hand, have won four-straight heading into semifinal action on Friday.
The Bears (7-6, 8-9) will face the two-time defending State Class C KG KouGars at 6 p.m.
During the regular season, KG captured a 61-50 win at Box Elder and an 81-50 decision at Gildford on Jan. 22. The KouGars enter the tournament with a perfect 10-0 conference record and 16-2 overall mark.
Rocky Boy (8-5, 9-10) gets a bye on Friday and will play the loser of the Blue Sky/Hays-Lodgepole matchup at 11 a.m. on Saturday.
The Blue Sky/Hays game will start at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
Blue Sky, the No. 2 seed with a 7-3, 13-6 record, and Hays, the No. 3 seed with an 8-3, 12-7 mark, did not meet during the regular season.
Rocky Boy Kyle MacDonald 3 4-8 11; Ronnie Lodgepole 1 0-0 2; Adam Demontiney 3 1-2 8; Mike Morsette 5 1-4 12; Jesse Poolaw 4 7-11 15; Dustin Sunchild 6 3-6 15. Totals: 21 16-31 63.
Box Elder Jason Infante 3 0-0 8; Lenno Henderson 5 0-0 11; Kenny Gardipee 2 5-6 9; Brandon Gopher 6 0-1 19; Jeff Henry 1 0-0 2; Chad Parker 4 0-1 8; Kendall Parker 5 2-4 12. Totals: 28 7-12 69.
Total fouls: Rocky Boy 16, Box Elder 24. Three-pointers: MacDonald, Demontiney, Morsette, Infante 2, Henderson, Gopher 3. Fouled out: Sunchild, Henderson, Gopher, Parker.