BILLINGS — Carsen Mayer doesn’t receive a ton of playing time on the Billings West boys basketball team, and when he was getting on the floor, he wasn’t showing what kind of player he could be.
At least that’s what Mayer’s coach, Kelly Darragh, was seeing. Darragh saw a player who wasn’t playing to his strength. So he pulled aside Mayer recently and gave him a piece of advice every player wants to hear.
Shoot the ball, Darragh told Mayer. Quit trying to drive to the basket. You’re a shooter.
Man, was Mayer a shooter Thursday night. The senior guard came off the bench and scored a game-high 23 points to help the fifth-ranked Golden Bears bury Billings Senior 79-39 at the West High gym. He made 7 of 9 3-point attempts, each time seemingly gaining a little more confidence as he’d hold his follow-through and look to the West bench after a successful shot.
Progressively, each of Mayer's baskets elicited a more lively reaction from the bench and the West student section.
Five of those 3-pointers came in the third quarter, including a buzzer-beater from a couple steps past midcourt. After he shot, Mayer simply kneeled to the floor and watched the ball sail through the hoop, just before teammates rushed from the bench to mob him.
“That was crazy,” Mayer said. “It felt really great leaving my hand and to just see it fall … it was just an amazing feeling.”
Entering the game, Mayer had scored 29 points on the season, and was 4 of 14 from the 3-point line. It’s no knock on Mayer, but sitting behind the guard tandem of Cade Tyson (16 points Thursday night) and Jesse Owens (13 points) -- who combine to average 32 points a game -- on the depth chart doesn’t afford a lot of playing time for others.
But that’s OK, Mayer said. He’ll take what he can get.
“They’re actually a really big inspiration for me,” said Mayer, as teammates gathered around him and others filmed him during his postgame interview. “They’re two of my closest friends and so competing and playing against them at practice and getting on the court in the Golden Dome and playing with them, it’s great. There’s nothing better.”
Senior was coming off its first win of the season last weekend in Butte. But the Broncs were never in this one, trailing 12-0 to open the game and 42-22 by halftime. Senior coach Drew Haws shouldered the loss, though the energy levels between the two teams was evident from the tip.
“Obviously, I didn’t have these guys ready to play,” said Haws, whose team dropped to 1-13, 1-7. “It’s 100 percent my fault. You just can’t come out and play a good team like West and just think we’re going to compete. We’ve done a good job of competing with teams, but I didn’t have them ready tonight, and that’s just the way it is.”
West improved to 9-5 overall and 6-2 in the league. Mayer’s big night, and the joy it brought to the Bears’ players, is a lesson for all, Darragh said.
“Carsen is a competitor, and he wants to play as much as anybody,” Darragh said. “He’s embraced his role and for every young kid out there, you know, you’re not going to play every second and you have to be ready when your chance is called. He’s never complained, and every time he gets in, he’s ready to play. He’s the ultimate team guy. If you watch our bench, he’s the cheerleader getting everybody riled up.”
Thursday night, those cheers were for Mayer.