BILLINGS — Trailing by one, Bozeman's Ryan Lonergan put up a contested shot against a pair of Billings Senior defenders. The ball sort of bounced off the rim and backboard, but had no plans of going in.
Until Mack Anderson came flying in for a put-back slam with about 12 seconds left in the game to give the Hawks the lead for good as they defeated Senior 66-62 to advance to the State AA title game for the third straight year.
"We were all a little bit frustrated at that point. We were getting a little bit flustered," Anderson said. "I knew Ryan was getting hounded down there everytime he touched the ball so I just went up for it and came down."
From start to finish the game was back and forth, but the finish was where the madness really took off.
Trailing by four, Senior's Ben LaBeau connected on a 3-pointer to bring the Broncs within one. Connor Kieckbusch then gave the Broncs a one-point lead with under a minute left before Anderson quickly responded. Brooks Zimmer used a slick post move to give the Broncs a one-point lead with about 21.4 seconds left in the game. Zimmer's shot found the rim and went all the way around before finally dropping.
That set everything up for Anderson's dunk.
"It's awesome (to play in a close game), especially against them," Anderson said. "Kieckbusch is such a great player. We're all friends, I played AAU with him and Slade (Cobb). So I know them all pretty well. It's fun playing them anyway and in a game that big it's awesome."
"We actually executed everything pretty well. I thought we had a good look in there and Mack followed it up," Bozeman coach Wes Holmquist said. "That was pretty fun and an exciting moment. No, I have not (seen a put-back dunk to win a game), especially in high school."
Senior took a timeout with 8.2 seconds left, but a charge call on Kieckbusch gave Bozeman the ball back with 3.6 seconds remaining. Robbie Simpson sank one of two ensuing free throws, but Senior turned the inbounds pass over and Simpson added two more freebies to ice and seal Bozeman's third trip back to the title game.
"I'm just super proud of our kids and the fight they had," Senior coach Drew Haws said. "Everything they did is unbelievable right now. I feel like we had our chances to win that game and going in that's what we wanted to do. We wanted to give ourselves a chance and that's exactly what we did."
Anderson finished with 23 points, Ryan Lonergan scored 16 and Simpson wound up with 13 for the Hawks. Bozeman used a big advantage on the boards as well, grabbing 33 rebounds to Senior's 19, 14 of which were offensive. Anderson also sat the beginning of the fourth quarter after picking up his fourth foul in the third, forcing him to adjust defensively against Senior big men Sam Evenson and Zimmer.
Kieckbusch ended up with 19 points and Braxton Haws added 13. Evenson, who came in off the bench, gave the Broncs 12 huge points and Zimmer added 11. The Broncs upset No. 1 seed Missoula Sentinel on Thursday to advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2000.
Bozeman will now turn its attention towards Great Falls CMR, a school Holmquist was an assistant coach at before going to Bozeman. The Rustlers have defeated Bozeman three times this year already. The championship game is set for 8 p.m. on Saturday.
"(John) Cislo is one of my best friends," Holmquist said. "Last night we were talking and I said, 'It's hard to beat a team three times,' and he said, 'What about four times?' And both of us were like, 'I don't think we've ever tried to beat a team four times in a year.' Just a great program and team we're going to go out and give it our best."
Great Falls CMR 62, Great Falls 38
Garrison Rothwell saw his opening round game come to an early close on Thursday. The Great Falls CMR senior fouled out during the Rustlers' win over Kalispell Glacier on Thursday, so he decided to come out with a bang on Friday.
Leading his team with 19 points, Rothwell scored 17 of those in the first half, outscoring all of the entire Great Falls team as CMR went on to route its crosstown rival 62-38 at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark in the State AA semifinals. The win advances the Rustlers to the championship game for the first time since 2010.
"I think we just looked at yesterday. We started out real slow. We knew if we started out slow (again) it's hard to grind back especially in a big game like this, a rivalry," Rothwell said. "We came out firing and gave it all we got.
"I did not play much yesterday. I fouled out and just knew if I gave it my all it would change how the game went."
Whatever sluggishness the Rustlers had on Thursday was gone as they came out hot against the Bison. Rothwell, Bryce Depping and Jake Olsen knocked down shots from deep and they led by as much as 27 en route to a 41-15 halftime lead. Rothwell alone shot 7 for 8 to begin.
"Our defense was what won it the most," Rothwell said. "We got fast breaks because we knew they were good shooters and if they got hot it's really hard to stop them so we made sure we closed out that extra step further."
The Rustlers held Great Falls to 23 percent shooting for the game, while shooting 67 percent on their own end. Sam Vining added 10 points for the Rustlers while Russell Gagne scored nine and Depping had eight.
"It's the best defense I've seen our kids play and in quite some time," CMR coach John Cislo said. "We've had some pretty good defenses ... I would say that's as good as a defensive performance I've seen out of a Rustler team probably since 2010 so that was fun to see."
Great Falls will play Missoula Sentinel on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at Billings Skyview. Kendall Kynett and Kyle Winkler each had 10 for the Bison.
Missoula Sentinel 55, Helena 38
Sam Beighle scored 20 points and Missoula Sentinel handily defeated Helena 55-38 on Friday afternoon at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark.
Beighle, who was named the Gatorade Player of the Year on Thursday, didn't play at all in the fourth quarter as the Spartans went into the final period with a 19-point lead thanks to outscoring the Bengals 23-9. Beighle shot the ball 8 for 13 and had seven of his team's first nine points in the third to kickstart them after only leading by seven at the half.
Sentinel, the top seed from the Western AA, recovered with a win after a heartbreaking 61-59 loss to Billings Senior on Thursday to open the tournament. Gaige DeShazer scored nine points for the Spartans and Elias DeWaters added eight.
"You have a lot of expectations coming in as a No. 1 seed and so we're obviously disappointed in how that went (Thursday night)," Sentinel coach Jay Jagelski said. "In these loser-out games, it's all about how you come out and being aggressive, being confident and I thought the boys did a good job of that, and they kept attacking after they built a lead.
"This team was very determined. I think they want to be a time that tries to get a trophy so that's our goal right now."
Helena finished the season at 8-16. Alex Johnson led the Bengals in scoring with 12.
Missoula Hellgate 56, Kalispell Glacier 43
Missoula Hellgate ground out a 56-43 consolation victory over Kalispell Glacier on Friday at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark to begin the second day of the State AA tournament.
The Knights and Wolfpack struggled to find their shot in the first half, with Hellgate leading 20-12 by half. Sophomore Rollie Worster led the Knights with 20 and Dylan Holst added 13.
"That was a grind of a game. A lot of fouls, a lot of free throws and a lot of missed shots," Hellgate coach Jeff Hays said. "I felt like our defense and rebounding got us a little bit of the lead in the first half. In the second half, we got back and executed a little bit better in the halfcourt offensively."
Both teams continued to go back and forth down the stretch but the Wolfpack only got as close as seven before the Knights began to pull away. Worster had 13 of his team's first 15 points in the fourth quarter to close it out down the stretch.
Hellgate will take on Billings Senior on Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. at Metra. Glacier, last year's State AA champions, ended the year at 10-14. Nick Whitman led the Wolfpack with 12 points.