BUTTE — Up four points with 20.2 seconds left in the game, all Butte Central needed was one stop to put Livingston away for good.
It nearly didn’t get it.
The Rangers rushed down the court and hit a three-point shot — or so it seemed. A referee called an illegal screen on Livingston, wiping away a shot and turning the ball back over to the Maroons.
Luke Heaphy then split a pair of free throws and Central walked out of the MAC with a 49-44 win.
Coming in at No. 5 in the first 406mtsports.com rankings, the Maroons are now 6-1. Livingston drops to 6-2.
“We didn’t execute it as well as we should have,” Central head coach Brodie Kelly said of the late Rangers turnover, “It’s a good one for us to learn from.”
Livingston’s late three-pointer touching nothing but net was hardly an aberration. The Rangers were making just about every deep shot they took, hitting nine total. Six of those came in the third quarter alone.
The most incredible, however, came late in the second half. Falling out of bounds in the corner, Livingston guard Danner Purkett whipped the ball behind his back and it dropped in without touching the rim.
All this came despite relatively good defense from Central. Livingston didn’t need much more than an iota of space to make the Maroons pay.
“When they’re on the catch, they should already be shooting,” Rangers head coach Layne Glaus said. “They did that in the third quarter and we were pretty tough to stop.”
Heaphy led the Central offense with 13 points and teammates afterwards lauded his effort and said they want to start a #Heaphy4Heisman campaign. No word on if Baker Mayfield will be giving up the trophy, but the sweet-shooting 5-foot-9 guard has been tremendous for the Maroons so far this season.
As the season has gone along, his play has been more confident and has become a reliable source of perimeter shooting.
His most important basket, a three-pointer that gave Central the lead back after losing it in the third quarter, came with 5:32 left in the fourth quarter. It seemed to put a bit of a spark into the Maroons who didn't trail again.
“I just got a nice pass, I don’t remember who from, but it set me up nice in the corner,” Heaphy said. “It makes it easy when you have teammates that give you good passes and knock down easy shots.”
Central moved the ball well and while Kelly did seem a bit frustrated by several transition opportunities gone awry, his team was able to make impact plays when they absolutely had to have them.
While sophomore forward Aaron Richards' plays maybe weren’t quite as flashy as Heaphy’s three-pointers, his free-throw shooting and a late putback helped seal the game for Central.
Richards, who finished with 12 points, is a dynamic two-way post player and rebounds with a tremendous amount of effort. Glaus said after the game he didn’t really feel like he had anyone that could match up with Central’s size, of which Richards is a major part of.
Heaphy heaped on some praise of his own.
“There’s nobody in the state that can stop that kid,” Heaphy said. “He’s just too strong. He’s a fighter.”
That said, next comes one of the biggest games of the season — the Crosstown Championship against Butte High on Thursday.
Are they already thinking about it?
“Oh yeah,” Heaphy said with a grin. “I’ve been looking forward to it for a while.”