BILLINGS — With chaos unfolding all around in the final seconds Thursday night at the Ralph Nelles Activities Center, Billings Central boys basketball coach Jim Stergar resisted the urge to call timeout. Meanwhile, Marcus Wittman and the rest of the Rams refused to panic.

As Brock Blatter went to the floor on the Billings Senior end of court to pick up a loose ball, it seemed a natural spot to call timeout. After all, the Rams were trailing by one, with under 10 seconds left in the game.

But players on the floor were well-spaced and there were no Broncs putting pressure on Blatter to force a held ball. So Stergar thought it more prudent to let things play out. That they did.

Wittman, after getting a pass from Malachi Stewart, who got the ball from Blatter, put in the game-winning shot at the buzzer as the Rams rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat Senior 51-50 in the teams’ return from their holiday break.

Among the first words out of both coaches' mouths afterwards was "unbelievable."

"Honestly, it felt like the ball wasn't bouncing our way the entire game," Stergar said. "Basically, the ball bounced our way when it mattered. Sometimes you steal one away like that and you feel like you don't know what just happened. Senior High played a great game, and, heck, they probably deserved to win the game."

It was a wild and unexpected ending to what had been a game dominated by defense, for the most part. Wittman’s buzzer-beater — he pump-faked a 3-pointer from the corner and when a Senior defender charged at him and drove the baseline for a floater — gave the Rams their first lead since they were up 6-3.

Senior led 27-14 at the half and had the advantage up to 38-24 late in the third quarter.

“We just kept fighting until the end, and that’s what happens when you fight until the end,” said the Rams’ Junior Brackenridge. “Anything can happen.”

Brackenridge started the mayhem in the final seconds after Senior’s Junior Bergen dribbled through the Rams’ backcourt on a failed trap down the sideline. Brackenridge managed to recover and, from behind, tapped the ball away from Bergen.

Blatter chased the ball down to corner on the far end of the court and got it to Stewart. By this time Stewart was just past halfcourt, and Wittman, who was by now standing in his own team’s corner, looked at the scoreboard clock.

Seven seconds showed.

Wittman caught Stewart’s pass and thought about putting up a 3-pointer. But when Senior’s Nick Eliason rushed at him, Wittman instead went to the basket uncontested and beat the clock. And the Broncs.

“We just stuck together,” Wittman said. “We kept the mentality that if we play hard defense, knock down some shots, then the rest will come.”

Senior coach Drew Haws praised Wittman’s composure on the final shot. He also said the Broncs, who led by 11 points with five minutes remaining, will learn “some lessons from this.”

“I have to put our guys in better positions down the stretch, and that’s on me,” said Haws, who coached with Stergar for five seasons when Stergar was the head coach for the Broncs. “Our guys played as hard as they could tonight.”

For Stergar it was his 300th career win, and it came in unforgettable fashion.

“Even though we don’t talk about who we’re playing very much, and this was a nonconference game that doesn’t mean anything, the guys know,” said Stergar, who has coached five seasons at Ronan, nine at Senior and now eight at Central. “The guys knew this was special for me. It means you’re really old, and most importantly you’ve had a lot of really good teams.”

Wittman scored 14 second-half points and finished with 19 to lead the Rams (3-2).

Bergen had 13 and Eliason 11 for the Broncs (2-3).

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Email Mike Scherting at mike.scherting@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsSchert

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