If there’s one word to describe the battle between Butte and Missoula Big Sky Saturday, it would be controversial.
The 66-53 score in favor of the Bulldogs wouldn’t initially tell the story, but the Butte Civic Center witnessed five total technical fouls, four going against the Eagles in a tense contest.
Before the first half had wrapped, Big Sky head coach Ryan Hansen was ejected from the arena after two technical fouls in the space of 10 in-game seconds, which the head coach was displeased with, but also apologetic for.
“I’ve got to do a better job of keeping my cool,” Hansen said. “I felt my kids were getting [fleeced] and I tried going to bat for them and it backfired… I thought the [technicals] were a bit much, but I guess after mine the refs felt they needed to get control of the game.”
For Butte head coach Matt Luedtke, the focus of the game then became about how his team would respond and block out the distraction of an unorthodox contest.
“Things that are out of our control,” Luedtke said. “We try not to worry too much about, and my kids did a great job of staying composed… I was proud of my guys. They came in and played hard.”
The contest saw Big Sky jump out to an initial lead partly thanks to guard Tre Reed, who sunk two early threes on his way to a team-high 20 points.
However, the second quarter saw Butte grow past their six-point first quarter with 26 in the second, which also saw Hansen’s ejection.
The chaos saw the Bulldogs enter the half up 33-26, which only expanded as another technical befell the Eagles early in the second half. On the back of a game-high 26 points from Butte forward Jake Olson, the Bulldogs saw out the remainder to close out an opening conference win.
Luedtke credited his team for overcoming a slow start to put up 60 points in the remaining three quarters.
“We didn’t match their intensity in the first quarter,” Luedtke said. “Defensively we try to keep teams in the 50s, and I was happy with our offensive output in the second, third, and fourth quarters.”
Olson’s 26 points was followed by guard Tommy Mellott’s 16 points, who made 14 of Butte’s free-throw attempts, as the Bulldogs made 29 of 48 attempts.
The Eagles saw guard Ben Maehl contibute 15 points as the follow-up to Reed’s 20 in the losing effort, which Hansen said he was proud to see his team keep fighting after his departure.
“One thing I really appreciate about this crew,” Hansen said. “There’s no give-up in them. They’re not going to quit and they’ll fight through whatever is ahead of them.”
Big Sky, now 0-5, stays on the road with a trip to Glacier on Jan. 7 while the 2-3 Bulldogs also travels to play Helena Capital on Jan. 7.