BILLINGS — Poor shooting was one of the main reasons the Lewistown boys basketball team lost its first two games of this season. Specifically, the Golden Eagles shot poorly from the free throw line, around 40% in one loss and 20% in the other.
Of the many factors that determined Lewistown’s Eastern A game at Billings Central, free throw shooting played perhaps the biggest role. This time, the Eagles were better in that category — they shot 21 of 28, and the Rams finished 6 of 19.
That 15-point differential more than made the difference in Lewistown’s 68-61 win over Central, the No. 3 Class A team in the 406mtsports.com rankings. The victory happened four days after the Eagles earned a 60-52 win over defending State A co-champion Hardin, which was ranked No. 2 at the time.
Tuesday’s win was the Eagles’ first at Central in Scott Sparks’ six years as head coach, he said.
“We don’t like to lose to these guys,” said Lewistown sophomore Royce Robinson. “They’re pretty tough always. Makes us pretty happy when we can get them.”
Robinson led all players with 26 points, two short of his career-high set last season.
Junior teammate Luke Clinton added 10 points, including two on a thunderous two-handed dunk in the first quarter with Central 6-foot-6 junior Brock Blatter contesting. The dunk — Clinton’s first in a game, per Robinson — put the Eagles (4-2) up 14-6.
“That was a pretty big deal,” Robinson said. “First one was on somebody. That’s pretty hard to do.”
Senior Nick Pasquarello led Central (5-2) with 15 points, Blatter scored 12 and senior Marcus Wittman had 10.
Wittman, who Central coach Jim Stergar said shoots 80% from the free throw line, went 1 of 9 on foul shots Tuesday. Senior teammate Junior Brackenridge, who scored nine points, shot 3 of 8.
“If we don’t go 6 for 19 from the free throw line, we probably win the game that we didn’t play very good in,” Stergar said. “It has to do with a lot of things, but it’s a simple game. (Wittman’s) not going to do that when it the matters most.”
Lewistown led Tuesday's game 19-11 after one quarter, 35-27 at halftime and 52-38 through three quarters. The Eagles' largest lead was 18 points. Central (5-2) cut the deficit to 62-58 with 1:30 left, but the Rams ran out of time and didn’t take advantage of six Lewiston missed free throws in the fourth quarter.
“I was (nervous) the whole entire game,” Robinson said. “I was wishing the whole second half the game could just be over. Once it stopped, it was kind of surreal. You don’t think about it until you get there.”
Lewistown has now won four straight games after falling 54-37 at Havre in its season opener on Jan. 2 and 50-42 to Glendive in its home opener on Jan. 8.
“We didn’t shoot very good at all in the first two games, and we’ve been putting them down pretty good lately,” said Robinson, whose brother, Jalen, is a senior on the Eagles.
The Eagles beat Miles City 64-50 a day after the Glendive loss and handled Sidney 61-40 on Saturday. Their game at Livingston scheduled for last Tuesday was canceled because of COVID-19, according to Sparks.
Lewistown struggled to get in sync offensively in its first two games, and Sparks attributed that in part to the schedule. The season began nearly a month later than usual because of COVID. The Eagles didn’t get their usual nonconference games “to work out the kinks,” Sparks said, and that was costly for a team with a new group of starters.
“We needed a couple games to see where we were at,” Sparks said. “The one thing we felt confident in as coaches, the defense was there, so we knew the offense would come.”
Lewistown's record last year was 8-13, and its season ended at the Eastern A divisional tournament. Central beat Lewistown 60-53, 67-50 and 66-43 in their three 2020 meetings.