BOZEMAN – Hamilton came into the Class A boys basketball state tournament a perfect 23-0. That perfect record is no longer intact, as Billings Central upset the Broncs in the first round Thursday afternoon, 64-37.
Billings Central shot out of the gates, opening up a 13-point advantage after the first quarter, and led by as many as 16 in the first half.
“It was nice to get them in that position,” Bilings Central head coach Jim Stergar said of the first-half lead. “And then just kind of pedal to the metal, and (the final score is) what you get.”
The Rams kept their distance from Hamilton in the second half, not allowing the Broncs to close the gap to single digits. Hamilton was visibly frustrated offensively, as the Billings Central defense forced Hamilton into turnovers and tough shots for the duration of the game.
“What we wanted to do, really, was just lower their percentage a little bit, and us, on our end, make a couple shots,” Stergar said. “You look at their percentage, (it was) lower than I could have asked for. Our guys played a great defensive game, lot of hands in shooters’ faces, and we rebounded the ball well, and that’s the key right there.
Chrishon Dixon brought the Billings Central crowd to its feet numerous times with exemplary dribbling and passing exhibitions, as he finished with 20 points and three assists. Sam Gray added a double-double, scoring 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
“He’s very quick,” Stergar said of Dixon. “Great kid, great leader, great teammate, does a lot of things well. He hit a timely 3 for us (Thursday), got to the rim a few times, passes the ball well. It’s nice to have a point guard that can play.”
Billings Central will take on Browning in the semifinals Friday at 8 p.m. after the Indians knocked off Belgrade.
Billings Central-Hamilton Stats
Browning 63, Belgrade 54
Tyree Whitcomb scored 25 points and grabbed 13 rebounds as Browning defeated Belgrade 63-54 Thursday to move on to the State A boys basketball semifinal round. Whitcomb also added a team-high five assists for the Indians.
Browning carried a 12-point lead into the fourth quarter, but Belgrade continued to fight. The Panthers cut Browning’s lead to five on numerous occasions, but Whitcomb and the Indians continually had answers for Belgrade’s runs.
Speeding up Belgrade and forcing them into turnovers was part of the game plan for Browning coming in, one that the team felt it executed well.
“At Browning, it’s all about pressure,” Browning head coach Daniel Connelly said. “We’ve got to turn them over so we can get easy baskets. That’s what we hang our hat on is defense. Everybody sees the flashy play, the scores, but ultimately it comes down to our defense.”
Whitcomb, Brandon Aimsback and Nathanial Stiffarm combined for 58 of Browning’s 63 points. Stiffarm, a transfer from Billings Senior, made all four Browning 3-point shots.
“They’ve been my constants all year,” Connelly said of Whitcomb, Aimsback, and Stiffarm. “Brandon is my double-double man, he’s the bruiser down low. Tyree, he’s my Swiss Army Knife. He rebounds, leads us in scoring, he leads us in assists, and he actually leads us in steals, too. He kind of does everything for us.
“(Stiffarm) has fit right in with these boys,” Connelly said. “He’s the outside threat that we needed and he’s sure stepping it up this year.”
Dawson Fowler, a future Montana Western Bulldog, had 13 points and seven assists for Belgrade.