By Bruce Sayler
Maybe, Butte High likes the challenge a little too much.
The Bulldogs seemed unable to shoot the ball successfully unless there was a defender in their faces Friday night as they fell to Billings Senior 67-61. The Eastern AA Conference boys’ basketball win in the Butte Civic Center was the Broncs’ first victory of the season.
Butte High missed 13 of its 31 free throws, but shot a fine 54 percent from the field in suffering the loss. The Bulldogs were also damaged on the boards where they suffered a 33-18 beating in rebounds.
“We took care of the ball and we’re doing things to the rim,” Luke Powers, head coach of the Bulldogs, said. “Rebounding and free throws is what it’s been all season.”
The latter was what he identified as persistent Bulldog problem areas this season.
“There was one spot in the third quarter, where they made a 3 after we gave them four offensive rebounds,” he said. “We’ve got to rebound the ball, and we were 13-for-23 from the free throw line in the second half. We’ve got to be better to win.”
Billings Senior shot decently, but less than 50 percent. The Broncs did drill 10 3-point shots, including a hot 7-for-15 rate from long range in the first half.
“They shot it well enough, tonight,” Powers commented.
It was a game Butte High never led. Junior Bergen drilled a 3-point goal for the first points of the game on his way to a 20-point performance, 11 of the points coming in the first quarter.
Butte High answered with a scoring drive to the hoop by Kale McCarthy before the Broncs began pulling away. Bergen’s hot hand carried the run that saw Billings Senior ahead by 16-11 after the first quarter.
The difference grew to 33-20 on a 3-pointer by Austin Conway with 4 minutes, 3 seconds left in the first half. Clay Ferguson heated up for Butte High and tallied five straight points before Conway knocked down a tip-in at the buzzer. The Broncs’ bulge was 35-25 at halftime.
Billings Senior added to its lead, but the Bulldogs fought back and outscored the 154-7 the last 6 ½ minutes of the third quarter. Ferguson, McCarthy, Dan McCloskey and Tommy Mellott each scored four points in the period, which ended with the Broncs’ lead having been cut to 47-41.
Butte HIgh got to within 49-48 when a Jake Olson hook shot capped a five-point Bulldog surge. Kash Kelly made a foul shot to start it and Ferguson contributed a tough fallaway jumper.
The clock showed 6:24 still remaining and Billings Senior gained some breathing room on free throws by Conway and Bergen around a 3-pointer by Jacksen Burckley.
Ferguson drove for another hoop and McCloskey netted two charity tosses to combat the Broncs’ four-corner offense used to melt time off the clock. It was then a 57-56 game with 2:03 left and Billings Senior made good use of the free throw line to secure the win.
Butte High was forced to foul due to the Broncs rebounding the Bulldog misses down the stretch. All the Butte HIgh shots were well-defended. Billings Senior meshed 8 of 12 freebies the last minute of the game.
Powers didn’t say he was ready to try having somebody guard his shooters on the foul line as a means of improving their performance from there, since they fared so much better while being defended — most of the game. However, he sounded intent on searching deep for solution.
“It was our biggest crowd (of the season),” Powers said. “If we make the free throws, it gets louder in here and we feel the momentum building. We need to find a way to rebound and put free throws in the hole.’
Conway scored 12 points off the bench for Billings Senior and the 6-foot-5 Burckley finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds. The win put the Broncs’ records at 1-11 overall and 1-5 in conference.
Ferguson led Butte High with 18 points, McCloskey scored 15 and McCarthy 14. Also, Mellott finished with seven points, Kelly with five and Olson with two. Michael Phillips and Jake Vetter played, too. Usual starter Trevyn Roth did not play because of illness, but was present on the bench while wearing street clothes.
The loss dropped the Bulldogs to 2-11 for the season, 0-8 in Eastern AA action. Their next game will be versus crosstown rival Butte Central on Thursday in the Civic Center.
BILLINGS SENIOR (1-11, 1-5) — Junior Bergen 7-12 2-4 20, Christian Cotharn 1-7 4-6 6, Jacksen Burckley 3-10 1-2 10, Max Evenson 2-3 3-4 8, Peyton Turner 4-7 0-0 9, Austin Conway 3-6 5-6 12, Blake Martin 1-1 0-0 2, Oran Nash-Bergen 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-46 15-22 67.
BUTTE HIGH (2-11, 0-8) — Kash Kelly 2-4 1-2 5, Clay Ferguson 6-13 6-11 18, Kale McCarthy 5-8 3-6 14, Dan McCloskey 4-8 6-8 15, Jake Olson 1-1 0-1 2, Tommy Mellott 2-3 2-3 7, Michael Phillips 0-0 0-0 0, Jake Vetter 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-37 18-31 61.
Billings Senior 16 19 12 20 — 67
Butte High 11 14 16 20 — 61
3-point goals — Senior 10-24 (Bergen 4-8, Cotharn 0-3, Burckley 3-7,Evenson 0-1, Turner 1-2, Conway 1-3), Butte 3-11 (Kelly 0-2, Ferguson 0-2, McCarthy 1-2, McCloskey 1-4, Mellot 1-1). Fouled out — none. Total fouls — Senior 20, Butte 19. Technicals — none. Rebounds — Senior 33 (Burckley 10), Butte 18 (McCarthy 4). Blocks — Senior 0, Butte 1 (Kelly). Assists– Senior 13 (Bergen 4), Butte 7 (Kelly 3, Mellott 3). Steals — Senior 7 (Bergen 2, Turner 2), Butte 11 (Kelly 3, McCarthy 3, Ferguson 2). Turnovers — Senior 17, Butte 11.