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State AA boys: Bozeman Gallatin, Great Falls CMR, Missoula Sentinel, Helena Capital win thrillers

Missoula Sentinel vs. Bozeman boys basketball
Posted at 4:17 PM, Mar 07, 2024

MISSOULA — The Class AA boys basketball state tournament started with thrilling first-round games Thursday at Dahlberg Arena.

Bozeman Gallatin, the second seed out of the East, held off West No. 3-seed Butte 71-65 in the first game, and Great Falls CMR, the East's No. 4 seed, upset Missoula Hellgate, the Western division champion, 55-54 in overtime in the second game.

Missoula Sentinel upended Bozeman on a 3-pointer in the final seconds to start the second session, and Helena Capital upset Billings West in the nightcap. The Spartans, the West's second seed, defeated East No. 3 Bozeman 45-44, and fourth-seeded Capital downed the East-champion Golden Bears 57-47.

The Raptors and Rustlers will meet in the semifinals at 6:30 p.m. Friday. Sentinel and Capital will play in the late semifinal at 8 p.m. Friday.

Butte and Hellgate will play a loser-out game at 12 p.m. Friday, and Bozeman and Billings West will meet in another loser-out game at 1:30 p.m.

PHOTOS: FIRST ROUND OF THE STATE AA BOYS BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT IN MISSOULA

Bozeman Gallatin 71, Butte 65

Bozeman Gallatin held Butte to just two second-quarter points en route to a 71-65 win Thurday.

The Raptors and Bulldogs played an entertaining back-and-forth first quarter, with Butte ultimately taking a 17-13 lead into the second quarter. But the Bulldogs made just 1 of 11 field goals in the second, as Gallatin took a 29-19 lead into halftime to take control.

Bozeman Gallatin vs. Butte boys basketball
Bozeman Gallatin defeated Butte in the first round of the Class AA boys basketball state tournament at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula on March 7, 2024.

Jack Repscher scored 22 points to lead the Raptors, who also got 12 points from Troy Hugs and 11 from Mac Melin.

Hudson Luedtke (22 points), Tocher Lee (13) and Torre Tempel (12) all finished in double figures for Butte, which made six 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to get within five late in the game.

Great Falls CMR 55, Missoula Hellgate 54, OT

Jonah Van Tassell came up with big play after big play to help Great Falls CMR to a 55-54 overtime upset win over Missoula Hellgate.

Van Tassell hit a game-tying 3-pointer with two seconds left that sent the Rustlers and Knights to overtime tied at 46. In overtime — after Easton Sant gave Hellgate a 54-53 lead on an offensive rebound and putback off his own missed free throw with 18 seconds remaining — Van Tassell was fouled on a 3-point attempt with less than 10 seconds left in the game. He hit 2 of the 3 free throws to give CMR the one-point win.

Great Falls CMR vs. Missoula Hellgate boys basketball
Great Falls CMR defeated Missoula Hellgate in the first round of the Class AA boys basketball state tournament at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula on March 7, 2024.

Van Tassell finished the game with a game-high 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including a 5-of-9 effort from 3-point range. Dean Blair had a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds, and River Wasson had 10 points, four of which came on dunks, including a thunderous alley-oop to start the overtime session.

"Our kids had the confidence that they could (beat Hellgate)," CMR coach John Cislo said. "To be honest with you, we kept telling the kids, we're 7-3 in the last 10 games. We've been getting better and better every day, every week at practice. We've been hammering them on having good practices and they did. For them, the last two games against Skyview and obviously tonight, their work ethic kind of paid off, which is great to see for kids to learn how you work your tails off, good things will happen."

Hellgate, the reigning state champion, fell behind at one point by 10 points thanks in part to a 3-of-14 shooting effort to start the game. The Knights, though, re-took the lead in the fourth quarter, as Sant (11 points), Zane Gillhouse (10) and Parker Link (10) each finished with double-digit points.

Missoula Sentinel 45, Bozeman 44

Lincoln Rogers banked in a 3-pointer with four seconds left, and Missoula Sentinel stunned Bozeman 45-44.

The Spartans led most of the game, taking a 27-20 lead into halftime and still leading by eight points midway through the third quarter. Bozeman rallied to get back in front in the fourth quarter, taking a late 44-42 lead on a pair of Rocky Lencioni free throws but didn't get off another shot after Rogers' heroics.

Rogers finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds. He made three of Sentinel's six 3-pointers in the game. Grady Walker, who made two 3s, added 18 points.

Missoula Sentinel vs. Bozeman boys basketball
Missoula Sentinel defeated Bozeman in the first round of the Class AA boys basketball state tournament at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula on March 7, 2024.

No player scored in double figures for Bozeman: Kash Embry and Torin Jeske each had nine points, Lencioni and Kellen Harrison both had eight, and Quaid Ash had seven. Lencioni added 11 rebounds.

Bozeman, which suffered its first loss of the season at last week's Eastern AA divisional tournament, made just 7 of 18 free throws in the loss.

Helena Capital 57, Billings West 47

Helena Capital is playing like a team with nothing to lose, and the Bruins used that freedom in a 57-47 win over Billings West.

Capital entered the game with an 8-13 overall record, but the Bruins built a 29-25 halftime lead and then pushed the advantage to 14 points late in the third quarter behind an unselfish offense and hard-nosed defense.

"We're playing gritty right now, we're really battling," Capital coach Guy Almquist said. "These kids are giving us everything. I think we play with a lot of freedom. We play as a team that doesn't have anything to lose, and that's what we've been playing. Throughout the season, if you look at our games, we actually led in the fourth quarter in like 11 of those 13 losses. We just couldn't finish, and now we're finishing. We're doing the little things, we're making free throws, taking care of the ball well enough, rebounding well enough. I just love the passion our kids are playing with, and they really wanted to win. West did, too, but tonight was our night."

The Bruins made three 3-pointers in both the first and third quarters, with Kyle Merideth leading the way. He had 15 points, knocking down four 3s in the game. Cole Dawes nearly had a double-double for the Bruins, finishing with 11 points and nine rebounds.

Helena Capital vs. Billings West boys basketball
Helena Capital defeated Billings West in the first round of the Class AA boys basketball state tournament at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula on March 7, 2024.

West, which was 10-of-26 shooting in the second half and made only 3 of 14 3s in the game, was led by Braden Zimmer with 16 points. Cooper Tyson and Cash Rice each had 11.