GREAT FALLS — The beauty of the postseason is the resolution of the hypotheticals. Coaches, players and fans can compare resumes, stats and film until they’re blue in the face trying to determine how potential matchups will turn out. But it’s all guess work until the ball is tipped.
Friday at the Northern C boys basketball divisional tournament saw some long-awaited matchups between district champions that hadn’t played each other this season, and the action on the court didn’t disappoint.
In the first boys semifinal game of the evening, the Fort Benton Longhorns overcame a sluggish start to defeat previously undefeated Simms to advance to Saturday night's Northern C championship game.
BOYS: Fort Benton 52, Simms 43
Fort Benton overcame a sluggish start to pull away in the second half of a 52-43 win over Simms in the Northern C semifinals.
The previously undefeated Tigers jumped out to a 14-7 lead in the first quarter, catching the defending Northern C champion Longhorns off guard.
“That’s a great team, they match up well across the board. We had to make sure that we matched that same intensity that they had,” said Fort Benton head coach Tyler Pasha. “We got off to a little slow start, but we made sure that we finished the way that we should.”
Pasha called the first half a “dog fight” in what was a thrilling back-and-forth affair. Simms guard Caden Smerker hit a shot at the halftime buzzer to give the Tigers a 25-24 lead after two quarters.
Fort Benton came out in the third quarter with much more intensity, building a lead and outscoring Simms 16-5 to take a 10-point lead to the fourth quarter.
With the Longhorns leading by four in the third, senior Hayden Diekhans stole the ball near half court and took it to the basket for a two-handed dunk, which was a turning point in the ballgame.
“I think the boys just wanted it,” Pasha said. “When Hayden came out and had that two-handed dunk, that really changed the momentum, especially in the crowd -- they got after it.”
Diekhans had 12 points and seven rebounds in the win. Fort Benton's Jace Thompson led all scorers with 13 points, including a buzzer beater to end the third quarter. Devin Bird also added 12 points, while Cody Evans led the Longhorns' defensive effort with 13 rebounds and three blocks.
Smerker led Simms with 10 points, with Carter McDowell and Dallin Nelson adding eight apiece.
Fort Benton moves on to the Northern C championship game for the second straight year, where it awaits District 8C champion Belt. Simms will move on to the consolation bracket to face Heart Butte in loser-out action at 8 a.m.
“We got to stay disciplined. Our defense is what won us the game (Friday). We didn’t shoot very well, but we took care of the basketball and our defense definitely won it,” Pasha said. “So we have to stay disciplined (on Saturday).”
BOYS: Belt 63, Chinook 62, OT
As Belt’s Aidan McDaniel walked off the court after a 63-62 overtime win over Chinook in the Northern C semifinal, he playfully placed two fingers in the crook of his elbow as his teammates shouted:
“Ice in his veins!”
McDaniel hit the biggest shots in the Huskies' biggest win of the season.
With just 3.7 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and Chinook leading 56-53, McDaniel rolled off a screen and drilled a 3-pointer from the wing to tie the game. Chinook’s Ethan Bell missed a potential game winner at the buzzer, and the game went to overtime.
"That was an awesome moment. It was do or die,” McDaniel said. “I had to make it. We were down three. And we're drawing up that play and coach (Kyle Paulson) was kind of wondering who's going to shoot it. And I said, 'I'm going to shoot it.' So I knew I had to make it.”
Once again Chinook held a one-point lead in the final seconds of the extra frame, but with 10 seconds left McDaniel was fouled on a layup attempt and calmly hit two free throws to give Belt the lead.
By that point Chinook’s top three scorers had fouled out of the game, but Damon Hannum still got a good look for the win but his shot hit iron and the Belt bench leaped to its feet in celebration.
The smiles on their faces said it all. Belt is heading to the Northern C championship after one of the wilder games in the history of this storied divisional.
Belt made up for a lapse in the fourth quarter that allowed Chinook to get back in the game. Up by nine points with under five minutes to play, Belt missed several free throws and Chinook capitalized with big shots to take a lead before the fireworks in the final minute.
McDaniel lead the Huskies with 20 points in the win, with Bridger Vogl adding 18 before fouling out in overtime. Kaimen Evans scored nine points and hauled in 11 rebounds with three blocks on defense.
Bell led all scorers with 22 points for Chinook and added four assists and three steals. Oskar Pula scored 17 before fouling out.
Belt will face Dictrict 9C champion Fort Benton in the Northern C championship on Saturday night at 8:30 p.m., while Chinook will try to stay alive in the consolation bracket against Roy-Winifred at 10:30 a.m.
"Fort Benton is good. Hayden (Diekhans) is as good as any player in the Northern C that I've seen in a few years and it's going to be a fun matchup,” Paulson said. “They're athletic. Our kids know their kids, we got a little kind of rivalry amongst each other. So I think it's going to be a great, great game with a great atmosphere. It's going to be a lot of fun.”
Roy-Winifred 50, Chester-Joplin-Inverness 38, loser-out
Heart Butte 56, Dutton-Brady 49, loser-out
Fort Benton 52, Simms 43, semifinal
Belt 63, Chinook 62 OT, semifinal
Box Elder 46, Belt 44, loser-out
Roy-Winifred 53, Geraldine-Highwood 21, loser-out