BILLINGS — Arguably the oldest cliche in the history of basketball is stating that free throws win or lose games.
Unfortunately, that cliche cannot be avoided when it proves to be true. And on Thursday night at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark, Billings Senior defeated rival Billings Skyview 63-62 thanks in large part to its free throw shooting.
The Broncs, ranked fifth in the first 406mtsports.com rankings of the year, won the first Crosstown Classic of the year, shooting 19 for 21 from the charity stripe. Senior guards Connor Kieckbusch and Braxton Haws combined for a perfect 18 of 18, 11 of which came in the fourth quarter.
Kieckbusch finished the game with 27 points, while Haws added 16. Big man Brooks Zimmer also tallied 11 points for the Broncs. Kieckbusch scored 12 of his points in the fourth quarter as Senior, after losing a big lead in the third quarter, had to battle back in the final period for the win.
"That was big," Kieckbusch said about the free throws. "Down the stretch, if we don't miss a free throw, we're looking good. We work on free throws a lot in practice. Every 10 or 15 minutes we're shooting free throws. We put a lot of emphasis on that just because, like today, they can be so big."
After trailing by as much as 11 in the second quarter, Skyview chipped away before taking its own lead midway through the third quarter. The Falcons led by as much as seven as Logan DeHaven, who finished with a team-high 19 points, scored 13 alone in the third.
Then it was Senior's turn to come back. Free throws and layups brought the Broncs back into the game, and with 1:45 left in the game, Kieckbusch drilled a corner three to give the Broncs a 57-54 lead, and they never trailed again.
"Yeah, definitely excited," Kieckbusch said about his celebration after his 3-pointer. "Crosstown game, emotions are high so anytime a big play happens, whether it's me or one of my teammates, I'm getting hyped."
Skyview (3-3) kept bringing the game within one, but six free throws from Haws and Kieckbusch iced the game for the Broncs (4-1). The Falcons also had an impressive night at the line, shooting 27 for 31.
"This was a good step for our team," Senior coach Drew Haws said. "You can never simulate those situations. To come back and just to execute the way we did, knock down free throws, and footwork and passes were good. It's exciting for this group."
For the Falcons, four players reached double figures, with Zach Schacht (13), Jeremiah Warner (11) and Trey Berry (11) all joining DeHaven.
"I thought we hung right in there," Skyview coach Kevin Morales said. "It's still a lot of this team trying to figure out how to get over that hump and completely finish a game. It's a process and as we progress through until March, we just have to learn how to finish those games when we have the lead there in those third and fourth quarters."