BILLINGS — Before every game, Billings West boys basketball coach Kelly Darragh gives his Golden Bears a target number for points allowed. With Bozeman in town, a team averaging nearly 61 points per game and on a five-game winning streak, Darragh set the number at 45 before Tuesday’s night game against the Hawks.
Seemingly, not an easy challenge.
The Bears passed it, though, and beat the Hawks 45-41 at the West High gym in a game not normally seen between these two teams, who both entered unbeaten in the Eastern AA. West needed 45 seconds on the game’s first possession to score on a Cade Tyson bucket, and perhaps that was an omen of what was to come.
“Defensively, we can get after people,” Darragh said. “When we’re not shooting well, the sign of a good team is to find a different way to win. That’s a good Bozeman team and I thought defensively, to hold them to 41, that’s doing a great job. I thought both teams played really good defense.”
While Bozeman’s 41 points was a season low, so too was the output by West. The Bears have come out early in recent games dialing in from the 3-point line, but an extended zone by the Hawks helped prevent West shooters from getting untracked.
Neither team held a lead bigger than six points. Bozeman’s biggest lead was 11-5 in the first quarter, and West’s largest was 39-33 early in the fourth.
“It didn’t seem like the typical West-Bozeman game,” Bozeman coach Wes Holmquist said. “Both teams got after it pretty good defensively. You get in these games, where everybody knows it’s a big game, every possession starts to take on a little more pressure. Their first possession took 45 seconds and I haven’t seen them do that all year.”
Tyson scored a season-high 18 points and Neil Daily chipped in 11 for the Bears, who took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Logan Meyer that broke a 33-33 tie in the fourth quarter.
There were five ties in the game and 10 lead changes. During a stretch at the end of the third quarter, the lead changed hands on six consecutive possessions.
“The game was definitely a slower pace than we’ve been doing,” said Tyson, who made 8 of his 9 field goal attempts mostly on aggressive drives to the basket. “We’ve kind of been run-and-gun, but their zone kind of slowed us down. So we set up some more sets and tried to get good shots on every single possession because they’re all so valuable.”
The Bears, who moved up to No. 2 in the latest 406mtsports.com rankings, won their sixth straight game and improved to 7-1 overall and 3-0 in the Eastern AA. They haven’t allowed more than 49 points during their winning streak.
“I honestly didn’t think we were going to be as good a defensive team as we are,” Tyson said. “That’s been the most important thing in the start that we’ve had.”
Carter Ash led Bozeman (6-3, 3-1) with 17 points.