Down 22 second-half points and playing without their leading scorer since early in the second quarter had to seem such a big mountain to climb for the Missoula Loyola Rams.
It was. And they did.
The Rams completed the comeback with a 79-72 win over the Cut Bank Wolves, sending them to the State B boys basketball state semifinals at Rimrock Auto Arena.
Fisher Richardson scored 26 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for the Rams, who had to fill in for the absence of Parker Davis. Davis, a returning all-state player who was averaging 20 points per game, went down with more than six minutes remaining in the second quarter with a leg injury and didn't return.
But the Rams, behind 41-29 at the half and trailing by 22 with 6:01 left in the third quarter, took the lead for good with 4:26 remaining in the game on a basket by Jacob Hollenback. Loyola outscored Cut Bank 28-9 in the fourth quarter.
"We called a timeout after we were down 21 and told our kids we had to be really aggressive and make plays," Loyola coach Eddie Stack said. "And they just responded.
"We watched the game before us between Lame Deer and Malta and we told our kids you just have to keep playing and playing and playing until that final whistle. The kids kept at it and they didn't quit on us."
Jack Lincoln contributed 18 points and Hollenback 14 more for the Rams, who play Malta at 5 p.m. Friday.
Evan Harrell had 27 points and Dawson Matt 13 for Cut Bank. The Wolves play Lame Deer in a 10:30 a.m. loser-out game Friday.
Malta 74, Lame Deer 69
Malta took a big lead, lost it briefly, then recovered to take a 74-69 win over Lame Deer in the first round.
Nate Costin scored a game-high 39 points on 10-of-13 shooting, and Ostin Welch added 20 to send the Mustangs into a 5 p.m. semifinal against Missoula Loyola on Friday. Taylor Matthews added 10 points and 16 rebounds for Malta.
"It feels good when it's going like that," Costin said. "It feels like you can't do anything wrong and your teammates can't do anything wrong.
"I'm a little tired right now. It's more of a sense of relief."
The Mustangs led 41-28 at the half, only to have the Morning Stars chip away and eventually tie the score at 54-54 early in the fourth quarter. A basket by Troy Redsleeves gave Lame Deer its first lead at 56-54 and moments later Trustin Two Moons put the Morning Stars up 58-56.
But Costin hit two free throws and scored another basket to get the Mustangs the lead back for good. Costin was 14 of 21 from the foul line, including 9 for 14 in the fourth quarter.
Michael Weaslebear scored 22 points to lead Lame Deer, which plays Cut Bank in a loser-out game at 10:30 a.m. Friday. Redsleeves and Draven Hart each had 14 for the Morning Stars.
Anaconda 68, Whitehall 55
Anaconda went wire to wire in beating Whitehall 68-55 Thursday in a first-round game .
The Copperheads had a 14-point lead by halftime. Whitehall whittled the deficit down to 41-35 on two free throws by Max Feight, but Anaconda let the Trojans get no closer.
Braxton Hill scored 23 points to lead Anaconda, which also got 16 points from Trent Mikalatos and 12 points from Kayne Cobban.
"This is a pretty resilient group," Anaconda coach Bill Hill said. "I thought we played very good defense, we rebounded well. We hustled and didn't take a lot of bad shots."
Braden Larsen scored 19 points to lead Whitehall, which shot just 27 percent in the first half. Andrew Simon finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out, and Wyatt Alexander added 13 points.
Whitehall plays Shelby at 3:30 Friday in a semifinal game. Whitehall plays Lodge Grass in a 9:30 a.m. loser-out game.
Shelby 70, Lodge Grass 44
Shelby's slow start didn't last long, and the Coyotes cruised to a 70-44 win over Lodge Grass in the opening game.
TJ Reynolds scored 21 points to lead four Shelby players in double figures. Andrew Johnson added 15 points, Aaron White had 11 and Zach Torgerson 11 for Shelby, which shot 48 percent from the floor and had 11 steals.
Jericho Biglefthand led Lodge Grass with 12 points. Darrian Backbone added 11.
Lodge Grass led 9-2 in the opening minutes. But Shelby rebounded quickly, and a 21-4 run allowed the Coyotes to take control of the game.
"We did come out a little slow," said Tom Reynolds, Shelby's coach. "It's a pretty sweet facility. The kids had big eyes coming in. It all starts on the defensive end, that's what makes our offense go."
Shelby advances to play Anaconda in Friday's 3:30 p.m. semifinal.
Lodge Grass plays a loser-out game at 9 a.m. Friday against Whitehall.