MISSOULA — Missoula Hellgate implemented a new defense to great effect on Tuesday evening against crosstown rival Missoula Big Sky as the Knights topped the Eagles 65-54 in Western AA boys basketball action.
Hellgate improved to 5-1 with the win while Big Sky fell to 2-4.
Hellgate utilized its 1-3-1 defense for the first time this season. By doing so, the Knights kept the Eagles out of rhythm while forcing Big Sky to make challenging passes that resulted in numerous turnovers.
Beckett Arthur finished with 21 points, including three 3-pointers, while Josh Wade scored 13 and Cayve LaRance added 12. A big sticking point for the Knights was Big Sky's near-comeback against Missoula Sentinel last week, and they wanted to close the door quickly in the second half.
"That’s what our coach said at halftime, he’s like the first three minutes of the (second half) are going to be crucial so we’re going to have to come out with more intensity than we had before, and that’s what we did," Arthur said. "We got in those lanes and we tried to get every loose ball possible just to kind of close and seal the deal."
Up 33-25 at half, Hellgate out-scored Big Sky 18-9 in the third quarter to take control of the game. For the Knights, it was the first crosstown game of the season as they continue to work with their new roster that experienced a lot of turnover but returned key components in Arthur and Wade.
There is pressure with a target on the back of the defending state co-champions, but Hellgate is finding its groove again as a new team with a new group of players.
"We’re really focusing on ourselves. We’re still evolving," Hellgate coach Jeff Hays said. "We’re going to be evolving I hope every day for the entire season. Different guys are going to be in different positions and we continue to adjust to get better and if we do those things, and worrying about ourselves and working hard and improving, we’ll just kind of play it from there."
It's a quick turnaround for Hellgate as the Knights turn their attention to another crosstown game, this time with Sentinel (5-0) in a big early season matchup between the two schools on Thursday.
Big Sky will hit the road on Thursday to take on Butte (2-3). Louis Sanders knocked down four 3-pointers for the Eagles on Tuesday en route to 14 points while Caden Bateman finished with 12. Lowering their turnover margin is the biggest focus for the Eagles as they move forward.
"Our biggest focus is turnovers and it has been since the beginning," Big Sky coach Ryan Hansen said. "I feel like it’s kind of like last year, we started the year off averaging over 20 turnovers and by the end of the year we had it down and that’s when we started having success and so I think some it is maturity, some of it is we haven’t played as much together.
"The more we go, I think the better it’ll get but you got to give it to Hellgate, they brought it. That was the best defense I’ve seen them play this year."