Bison stun Knights in AA boys’ first round

Great Falls High denied Missoula Hellgate a third straight championship game berth by upsetting the Knights, 76-54, Thursday night, finishing the first round of the state Class AA high school boys’ basketball tournament in the Butte Civic Center.
Hellgate was the 2013 champion and was runner-up to Helena Capital last year. Other first-round games Thursday saw Capital nick Bozeman 65-59, Billings Skyview top Missoula Sentinel 47-39 and Billings West get past Missoula Big Sky, 52-45.
All three Missoula teams suffered losses Thursday, meaning Friday’s elimination round will be packed with squads from The Garden City.
Friday’s schedule begins with Bozeman (15-7) playing Sentinel (10-12) at 9 a.m. and Big Sky (10-12) taking on Hellgate (19-2) at 11 in loser-out games. The semifinals pit Capital (17-5) against Skyview (18-3) at 3:30 and Billings West (19-3) against Great Falls High (15-7) at 5 p.m.
Game capsules for Thursday’s play follow:

Helena Capital 65, Bozeman 59
The scoring of Casey Ebelt and Keegan Syvrud fired Helena Capital past Bozeman in the first game of the 2015 Class AA high school boys’ basketball tournament at the Butte Civic Center.
The Bruins were able to open the necessary margin in the second half after a very tight contest played before intermission. Capital gained a 10-point lead, the largest of the game, in the third quarter and was then able to hold the Hawks off for the win.
Ebelt finished with 26 points and Syvrud with 20 for Capital, the second seed from the Western Conference. Ebelt connected five times from 3-point range. Sean Mulcahy scored 10 points for the Bruins as three players tallied 56 of Capital’s 65 points. The Bruins will take a 17-5 record into Friday’s semifinal round where they will meet top-ranked Billings Skyview.
Bozeman, which entered as the No. 3 seed from the Eastern Conference. was led by Adam Huse with 20 points, Bennett Hostetler with 11 and Trace Bradshaw with 10 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
The Hawks are 15-7 this season and will play a loser-out game Friday against Missoula Sentinel.
The game saw four ties and eight lead changes before the Bruins nailed down the win. Capital led 29-24 at halftime.

Billings Skyview 47, Missoula Sentinel 39
Top-ranked Billings Skyview overcame a fast start by Missoula Sentinel to pull out the first-round win Thursday at the Butte Civic Center in the state Class AA high school boys’ basketball tournament.
Sentinel built a five-point lead in the first quarter before the Falcons came on and evened the score 20-all by halftime. Skyview steadily built on its edge after gaining the second-half advantage and grew to margin to 10 points just before the end of the game.
Kendal Manuel scored 14 points to lead the Falcons and was backed by Ray Quan-Evans with 13 points and Montana Tech recruit Nolan McHugh with 10. Quan-Evans also grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds. The win pushed Skyview’s record to 18-3 heading into Friday’s semifinal round against Helena Capital. The Falcons are the No. 1 seed from the Eastern Conference.
Sentinel leaders were Zaccheus Darko-Kelly with 14 points and Travis Zander with 12. The Spartans are 4-16 this season and will play Bozeman on Friday in the elimination round.

Billings West 52, Missoula Big Sky 45
Big Sky made the favored Billings West squad work for the victory. The Eagles led 11-8 after one quarter and 24-21 at halftime before succcombing to West’s depth and height. The Golden Bears took the lead for good at the beginning of the second half as Braydon Deming outscored Big Sky 9-2 in the first two minutes. Deming tallied on two free throws, a fast-break basket and on a surge-capping 3-point basket.
The Eagles stayed close and rallied to within a point, 36-35, as Cory Diaz canned two free throws. Reece Nielsen buried a 3-pointer for West, which kept a 39-37 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
The Golden Bears steadily pushed on the lead against a stubborn Big Sky effort. However, the biggest lead of the game was a 51-42 West command following 6-0 run. Trever Spoja’s free throw with 30 seconds left made it the nine-point spread.
Deming finished with 16 points and 6-foot-8 Rocky Mountain signee Danny Betcher had 10 to lead the Golden Bears. Montana recruit Jared Samuelson was held to two points.
Six-foot-three Colin Bingham hooped 15 points and snared a dozen rebounds to lead Big Sky. High-leaping 5-9 junior Jake Tabish had 11 points and five steals.

Great Falls High 76, Missoula Hellgate 54
Missoula Hellgate probably didn’t know what hit it. The Knights came into the tournament with a loss to Capital their only blemish and then they ran into a Great Falls High squad that has played with confidence and purpose the past month or so.
The Bison took over in a hurry. They crashed the boards, shot with accuracy and ease and refused to give Hellgate star Tres Tinkle anything open, even if they had to foul him — which they did.
However, they also drew fouls from him and a physical game played to Great Falls’ favor.
The 6-foot-7 Tinkle, a strong candidate to win his third straight Montana Player of the Year award, tallied in traffic for a 2-0 Hellgate lead.
The Bison got a bucket and then a 3-point goal from super sophomore Brandon Howard and they led 5-2. They were never behind after that Howard trey.
Great Falls outscored the Knights 8-5 the rest of the quarter and held a 13-7 edge. Howard tallied nine points in the period.
The Bison kept up the heat through the second quarter. Jake Wetzel whistled home a 3-pointer after a pair of Howard free throws as the lead grew to 11 points. Great Falls outscored the Knights 18-7 the rest of the half and owned a 36-14 command at intermission.
The Bison’s 23-point second quarter featured two 3-pointers by Wetzel, six points by Howard and a barrage from Carroll recruit Matthew Wyman as he put in nine points.
Tinkle is headed to play for Oregon State of the Pacific 12 Conference. There, he will be coached by his father, Wayne Tinkle, who was at Thursday’s game and who formerly coached his alma mater, Montana, before this school year.
Hellgate came out of locker room for the third quarter roaring hot. The Knights scorched an 11-0 run with Tinkle scoring six on a jumper from just inside the 3-point arc, a drive to the hoop and on a steal and layup. His flurry ignited the run that also saw Rhett Baerlocher score off an assist from Tinkle, and Devin Bray bury a shot from beyond the arc.
Great Falls, though, put on the brakes. Howard netted a free throw and then Wetzel drilled a 3-pointer, and the Bison were on another stampede. They built their lead back to 20 points, 53-33, after a pair of free throws by Montana Tech signee Lukas Vining.
Baerlocher picked up a blocked shot and scored it just before the buzzer to make the difference 53-35 through three frames.
Great Falls went on a 10-4 run to start the fourth quarter and a comeback victory was out of reach of the Knights, whose foul count mounted, costing them players filling their quotas.
Reserves played most of the last four minutes.
Great Falls shot a good 48 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point land. The Bison placed four players in double figures in scoring as Howard finished with 24 points, Wyman 18, Vining 16 and Wetzel 11. Howard also had nine rebounds and drew most of the defensive duty against Tinkle.
Tinkle’s line still showed 20 points, 13 rebounds, an assist, a block and a steal. Bray scored nine points, all on 3-pointers. The Knights shot just 27 percent in the first half, but 41 percent for the game, from the floor.