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State C boys: Box Elder caps off undefeated season, tops Manhattan Christian for state title

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Posted at 8:42 PM, Mar 09, 2024

GREAT FALLS — Sometimes games just live up to the hype. And the thousands of fans who packed the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls expecting an instant classic between undefeated Box Elder and two-time defending champion Manhattan Christian were not disappointed.

After 32 intense minutes, 15 lead changes, countless momentum swings and several edge of your seat moments, the Box Elder Bears are Class C boys basketball state champions again, pulling out a thrilling 68-64 win.

“I don’t really have words to describe this feeling,” said junior Tracen Jilot. “The whole team has worked hard for years and years. We grew up watching the 2014 and 2016 teams win titles, so this is something we dreamed about.”

Jilot made his case as the state’s best basketball player in a performance that will go down for the ages.

The junior star recorded 34 points, six steals, five assists and four rebounds. He’s spent all year making stat lines like that look easy, but in the biggest moment of the year it was even more impressive.

“Tracen is a great basketball player. I've never seen a guy put the ball in the hoop the way he does,” said Box Elder coach Jeremy MacDonald.

But Jilot’s defense provided the turning point moment in the ball game.

Trailing 42-41 with just over a minute left in the third quarter, Jilot went on a one-man 6-0 run which included a clutch jumper and a steal on the inbounds pass followed by a dunk to end the period.

“I feel like we really got the crowd on their feet and that helped us play better defense and just made us pick up our energy more,” Jilot said. “You know, we kind of played a little tight and nervous early. And after that, I felt like we loosened up and just played our style of ball.”

The Bears had key contributions from all over the roster. Tuarie Stiffarm-Rosette added 11 points and six rebounds, Matthias Blackbird scored nine points, while Dreyden Anderson pitched in eight points. Both juniors had key buckets down the stretch in the fourth quarter to hold off a Manhattan Christian run.

With Box Elder leading 62-54 late in the fourth, the Eagles turned to a press and were able to cut the lead to 66-64. But a layup from Blackbird gave Box Elder a four-point lead with under 10 seconds left to secure the win.

Manhattan Christian was led by senior Mason Venema with 26 points and seven rebounds. Christian Triemstra scored 24 points.

This is the third title for MacDonald as head coach of the Bears. The wins in 2014 and 2016 inspired this current group of Bears, and he hopes that cycle continues.

“Our community loves basketball,” MacDonald said. “You know, we talk about how basketball is kind of a modern day warriors for us. And we represent that tradition well. I think our community is proud of us. I think we made a lot of people happy. You know, ancestors looking down on us, smiling. That feels great.”

And with a core group of juniors set to return next season, the bar is set for future success.

"But these boys got a chance next year to do something that's never been done in school history,” MacDonald said. “And that's go back to back.”

BOYS CONSOLATION FINAL

Lustre Christian 53, Harlowton-Ryegate 43