WORDEN — Josh Keo missed most of this boys basketball season with a right ankle sprain. The Plenty Coups senior came back this week, right before the District 6C tournament.
Three games into his return, Keo capped one of the craziest games of his career with the shot of his life.
Keo hit a jump shot with 1.2 seconds left to give the Warriors a 63-61 win over Bridger in the District 6C title game at Huntley Project High School on Saturday night. Keo’s heroics rescued Plenty Coups from a devastating collapse.
“This is the most amazing feeling I’ve felt in a long time,” Keo said.
The Warriors, who are No. 7 in the 406mtsports.com Class C rankings, took their biggest lead of the game — 55-37 — to start the fourth quarter. Over the next five minutes, the Scouts went on a run that borders on impossible in a shot clock-less game.
Bridger poured in 21 straight points, the final four of which scored with 2:49 left, when senior Jake Kallevig was fouled as he drained a 3-pointer. The play gave the Scouts their first lead since 1-0, and it felt like it happened at the end of the game, given how Bridger’s players and fans roared.
"If they play that emotionally charged basketball for a whole game, we're right there in the top 10 in the state," Bridger coach Randy Novakovich said of his players. "I just told them (during the fourth quarter), 'It's not how we start this game, it's how we finish. If you guys play hard for the last five minutes, we'll be good.' And they did.
"That's all you can expect out of kids. They did a great job."
Spectators had good reason to believe that Kallevig’s shot would give Bridger the lead for good, considering how well the Scouts were playing and how rattled Plenty Coups appeared. Bridger stopped the Warriors on the next possession, too, and senior Kalen Pospisil went to the free-throw line.
Pospisil missed both foul shots, and Plenty Coups junior Clarence Stewart went to the line on the next play. He made both to end the 21-0 run and cut Bridger’s lead to 58-57.
Kallevig answered with another and-one, and the Scouts’ cushion went up to four points with about a minute left. It was Bridger’s largest lead of the game.
The Warriors made it 61-59 with 44 seconds left on an assist from Keo to junior Melville Stops Jr. Bridger was still in good shape, but on the following possession, Plenty Coups senior Brendan Falls Down forced a steal and sprinted for a game-tying layup. One play later, Falls Down nabbed another steal, giving his team the ball with 26 seconds left.
The Warriors ran a bunch of action during the next 20 seconds, hoping to find an open look. They got one with a few ticks left.
Stewart drove right and passed to Keo on the left wing. Keo pump-faked a 3-pointer, took one dribble forward and fired a mid-range jumper. The ball hit the front of the rim, rolled around the right side, hit glass, hit the front rim again and fell through the net.
“I’m thinking, ‘Please God, go in,’” Keo said. “I can’t explain the luck that the shot (needed) to go in. A lot of practice, a lot of visualizing yourself making that shot.”
After the game, several people told Keo that his game-winner reminded them of Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer-beater in Game 7 of last year’s NBA Eastern Conference semifinals that advanced the Toronto Raptors past the Philadelphia 76ers.
Bridger had a chance with 1.2 seconds left, but Plenty Coups forced a turnover on the inbounds pass to end the game.
“We pretty much kept our heads cool,” Keo said. “We knew what we needed to do, we knew how we needed to beat them and we executed. Props to coach (Garren) Goes Ahead.”
Keo (4 of 5 from the field) and Falls Down (4 of 8) each finished with eight points, and Falls Down grabbed seven rebounds. Stewart (11 of 19) and Kallevig (7 of 16 on field goals, 8 of 9 on free throws) tied the game-high with 26 points. Stewart scored 16 in the first half and 24 through three quarters.
"I was tired at the end," said Stewart, who played all 32 minutes. "I had (doubts) once they were up by three. My team took over."
Sophomore Baylor Pospisil added 11 points (5 of 10 from the field) and eight rebounds for the Scouts (16-5).
Plenty Coups (17-2) has suffered one Class C loss all season, 76-69 at Bridger on Jan. 16 (the other defeat was to Class B No. 2 Lodge Grass 90-52 on Dec. 7). The Warriors beat the Scouts at home in their first meeting, 58-44 on Dec. 21.
Both teams will move on to the Southern C Divisional tournament March 4-7 in Miles City. Plenty Coups lost to Melstone 61-57 in last year’s divisional championship game — a game that rivaled the intensity of Saturday’s thriller, Keo said.
“This really boosts our confidence,” Keo said of Saturday’s win. “We see ourselves going back to state and possibly taking divisionals.”