BILLINGS — The power in Class B boys basketball was in the South this year.
Huntley Project defeated Thompson Falls in the State B boys consolation game on Saturday, 44-37, to claim the third-place trophy and give the Southern B a sweep of all three State B trophies this weekend.
"With this group from the very beginning, I just kept telling them over and over to trust the process: 'If you'd just do that, I promise we'll get you ready,'" Huntley Project head coach Mark Branger said. "I did the crawl before you can walk, walk before you can run. Sometimes when we were walking we were stumbling, even when we ran. (Saturday) I asked them to finish the race. (Saturday) we see the finish line, let's run through the tape."
"These games are hard. They're difficult. They wear on your body," Huntley Project senior Noah Bouchard said. "There was a lot of fatigue at the end of that game."
Project looked like it had the game in hand with less than four minutes to play leading 36-21, but Thompson Falls had one last flurry. The Bluehawks eventually trimmed the deficit to six, 40-34, with 31.1 seconds to play, but the Red Devils were able to put the game away from the free throw line late. Bouchard finished a perfect 10 of 10 from the charity stripe.
"There's four minutes left and we started to think the game was over. They went on a little run, started jawing at us. We just had to remember where we're at. Hey, they can come back at anytime, so we've got to end it," Bouchard said.
Fatigue played a clear role, as both teams were playing their fourth game in four days. Thompson Falls shot just 20% in the opening half and 15 of 52 for the game. Huntley Project fared better from the floor, 15 of 35, but the Red Devils coughed the ball up 19 times.
"They never quit believing. All glory to God, but credit to them because they literally believed along the way. When we stumbled, they kept saying we can do it," Branger said. "I felt like we're one of the better defensive teams here. We spent the first month working on defense. ... I really felt the core heart of our program and what I've coached has always been if we can control three things then we have chances to win. If we can out-rebound our opponent, if we can out-defend our opponent and if we can out-work them. The challenge going into this tournament was don't let anybody ever out-work us."
"The mental part of it since January has been exhausting, but to see it finally pay off is just the best feeling in the world," Bouchard said.
Bouchard led all scorers with 24 points on 7-of-11 shooting. He also grabbed seven rebounds. Jake Fox had 14 rebounds for Project. Nathan Schraeder led Thompson Falls with 10 points.