By Derek Hendrickson
The Belgrade Panthers used a pair of last minute 3-pointers to overcome a five-point deficit and stun the Butte Central Maroons 51-50 on Senior Parent Night Tuesday evening at the Maroon Activity Center.
The back-and-forth affair saw several huge swings and just when Central appeared in control the cold blooded shooters from Belgrade came through when it mattered most.
Brock Salsbury got a good look from the top of the key with the score 50-45 and hit nothing but net to make it a two point game with about forty five ticks to go.
The Maroons did well to bleed much of the clock but couldn’t connect on the front end of the one and the bonus free throw after a Belgrade foul.
The Panthers swiped the rebound and Trey Layman drilled a three with a Maroon defender right in his face with 2.5 seconds to go and set the large Belgrade contingent into a frenzy.
Longtime Belgrade head coach Mike Deming broke down the last offensive possession in his team’s win, saying “It’s a designed play, Central did a nice job hedging and switching on the screen. They fell off him a little bit so that was the option. We didn’t need a three at the time, the play is drawn up to be a two option number one but the way they played defense they took away the option of the two and he made a good shot.”
The Maroons almost had a miracle in them when Tanner Kump returned to his quarterbacking and threw the inbounds from under Belgrade’s basket all the way to the other end line, where Nate McGree made a great catch. Somehow, he hit the front iron from what appeared to be an angle that forced him to shoot it over the backboard.
In the ensuing scrum Central may have had time for a tip in as the McGree play happened quickly but that too fell off the front rim and Belgrade escaped with the non-conference win.
“That was a kick in the gut, we had the game won,” Maroon head coach Brodie Kelly. “We don’t lose games like that when we are up by five with under a minute. Just three critical plays. The only thing that beats us at the end is a three, give the kid credit, we’ve got to make sure he doesn’t get that shot. And the previous one was a killer, we can’t give their best shooter a catch and shot three”
The game was a stark contrast of the one sided thumping that occurred in Belgrade earlier this season, which the Panthers won but 16 but built an almost 30 point lead by halftime before taking their foot off the gas.
Central got off to a slow start again, trailing 17-8 after one but fought back to trail 23-22 late in the second quarter before 4 straight Panther free throws sent the game to the break at 27-22.
Belgrade had a strong burst in the middle of the third quarter. Sam Johnston, the Maroons best defender, picked up his 4th foul with 4:47 left in the frame and the scoreboard reading 34-30 Panthers.
After Johnston was forced to sit Belgrade put together a quick 7 point run to build the lead to their largest of the game, 41-30.
Central got the momentum swing they were looking for when Jared Simkins went hard to the hoop and got fouled for a potential and one. Salsbury wasn’t directly involved in the play but said something that the officials took exception to and was hit with a technical. Simkins hit his freebie before McGree coolly stepped up and drained both of the extra charity tosses and it was a 5 point possession for BC.
Central added four more points to the run before the end of the third and the game went to the fourth up for grabs, 41-39 Belgrade.
The Maroons finally took their first lead of the game when Cade Holter hit a three to open the fourth.
A pair of swished free throws by Jared Simkins made it 44-41. Salsbury hit a three to tie it seconds later.
Central got buckets from Holter and Matt Simkins before two Kump free throws made it 50-45 and set up the late game theatrics.
Deming spoke about the back and forth runs after the game, saying “Central’s a good team and one thing about Brodie’s teams is they play good defense and so whenever you play defense and take care of the ball you can stretch some runs. I thought they made some shots and our defense wasn’t very good at times and they capitalized on getting into the paint.”
Despite the heart wrenching loss, Kelly did have some positives to take away from the game and praising the opponent, saying “that’s a really good basketball team, they are 13 and 3 for a reason. They are a really talented, potent offensive team and they are really hard to guard. I thought in the second half we really challenged a lot of stuff. We made Dawson work a lot harder, we made all of them work for the shots they got. I was happy with that. We made some tough plays offensively, I didn’t ever feel we were in a great rhythm but we certainly made some good plays.”
McGree led the Maroons with 15 points and 10 rebounds. No one else reached double figures but sixother players scored and all of them put in at least five points.
Salsbury led everyone with 17, Fowler had 13 and Layman added 12 for the Panthers who shot 9-22 from three and outrebounded the Maroons 33-24.
The loss ends the regular season for the Maroons and they finish with a 10-8 overall record, which included a great run to close out the schedule. Kelly spoke about some of the issues tonight as well as the big picture moving into tournament time, saying “when you look at the games, we’ve won seven of our last nine and the two games we’ve lost have been extremely close, to Dillon down there and tonight and I think our guys know they can compete with anybody. We didn’t play our best basketball tonight in the first half and that was on us. I had some goofy rotations tonight the way I was subbing and i think we can be better than this. I think we can be better than this, I think our guys are optimistic but it hurts to lose this kind of game.”
This is also the final time Central’s four seniors will take the floor of the Maroon Activity Center. Johnston, Kump, McGree and Archie Petritz all were honored in a pre-game ceremony.
Belgrade improves to 14-3 on the season and will face their second Senior Parent Night of the week when they travel to face the undefeated Dillon Beavers. The Panthers are the class of the Central A, going 7-1 and will be a favorite to advance to the State Tournament to be held in Butte in early March.
“This is the best situation for us,” Deming said about the last week of his team’s schedule. “Early on we took on some teams that aren’t very competitive and so now to play Butte Central and Dillon in the same week before divisionals we have two very competitive games against two very good teams and we just want to play well and execute our stuff and continue to compete. I thought this was a great game for both Central and Belgrade and obviously we are glad to come out on top but it was a good game for everybody.”
Belgrade will face several tough teams from the Eastern A at their Super Divisional, as Hardin, Laurel, Sidney and Billings Central all have at least ten wins on the season as well as Lewistown in the Central, who handed the Panthers their only conference loss on the season.
“Everyone on Sunday is back to zero and zero and the reality is where are just playing a bracket next week, a new season and hopefully we are playing at our best,” Kelly said when asked about the upcoming Western A Super Divisional in Hamilton starting next Wednesday. “We just want to keep improving and getting better, these are important practices for us.”
BELGRADE (14-3, 7-1) — Dawson Fowler 4-13 4-6 13, Trey Mounts 0-5 2-2 2, Easton Page 0-1 0-0 0, Brock Salsbury 6-12 0-0 17, Trey Layman 5-10 0-1 12, Hayden Van Winkle 2-3 0-0 5, Spencer Gordon 0-1 2-2 2. Totals 17-47 8-11 51.
BUTTE CENTRAL (10-7, 4-4) — Sam Johnston 2-6 1-4 6, Tanner Kump 1-2 2-3 5, Nate McGree 4-15 7-10 15, Dan McCloskey 2-6 0-0 6, Luke Heaphy 0-0 0-0 0, Cade Holter 2-6 0-0 5, Matt Simkins 3-4 1-2 7, Jared Simkins 2-4 2-3 6, Archie Petritz 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-40 6-12 48.
Belgrade 17 10 14 10 — 51
Butte Central 8 14 17 11 — 50
3-point goals — BC 5-18 (McCloskey 2-6, Kump 1-2, Holter 1-3, Johnston 1-4, McGree 0-2, M Simkins 0-1), Belgrade 9-22 (Salsbury 5-10, Layman 2-4, Van Winkle 1-1, Fowler 1-6, Mounts 0-1). Fouls — BC 14, Belgrade 19. Fouled out — None. Technicals — Salsbury. Turnovers — BC 9, Belgrade 12. Rebounds — BC 26 (McGree 10), Belgrade 33 (Fowler 8). Blocks — BC 3 (McGree 2), Belgrade 2 (Layman, Van Winkle). Assists — BC 9 (Holter 3), Belgrade 6 (Layman 3).