BILLINGS — It had been awhile since Kendall Kynett and Blake Thelen were both clicking during the same game. Great Falls High’s duo picked a fine time to get back into their groove.
Kynett scored a game-high 19 points and Thelen added 12 more as Great Falls High defeated Missoula Hellgate 56-49 in the opening game of the State AA boys tournament. The Bison outscored the Knights 19-11 in the third quarter to help set up the victory.
“It’s been off and on. One has been playing well while the other was struggling, back and forth, but it was nice to see them clicking,” Great Falls High head coach Bob Howard said of Kynett and Thelen. “That was good and we needed that boost. We also needed to have that (third quarter) cushion because we let it slip away pretty quick.”
Following a back-and-forth first half, Kynett hit a big 3-pointer late in the third quarter, then Thelen followed with a pair of 3s to push the Bison lead to 43-33 early in the fourth. Holding the momentum and the double-digit lead, Great Falls High went into a stall offense, forcing Hellgate to change its defense. The Knights did, sending stars Rollie Worster and Bridger Deden to the front of a trapping zone, forcing two straight turnovers that led to points on the other end.
Hellgate quickly trimmed the lead to 48-44, but couldn’t overcome the 10-point deficit.
“We were (stalling) and we got really frustrated,” said Howard. “They came out and double-teamed every pass and we haven’t seen that (this season). Luckily we were able to make some free throws at the end and hang on. They missed some shots, but they had us completely baffled for awhile. It’s a good thing I didn’t have a lot of timeouts or I would have screwed it up even more.”
Kynett scored 14 of his 19 points in the second half, including all three of his made free throws. He also grabbed four rebounds, had an assist and one steal. Thelen added seven of his 12 points after halftime, as well, helping the Bison build their 10-point advantage. Thelen also had a team-high six rebounds.
Hunter McKinney chipped in with nine points, as did Kevin Boes for the Bison.
Deden led the way for Hellgate with 18 points and five rebounds, but the Knights struggled from the floor, shooting 30 percent for the contest. Great Falls High made 47 percent of its field goals.
Worster, a Montana Grizzly commit, added 16 points and eight rebounds for Hellgate, which falls to loser-out action on Friday. Great Falls High advances to the 6:30 p.m. semifinal.
“It’s huge for these guys. All of them were in the backseat and helped last year, but now they’re stepping up and there’s no better time,” said Howard. “We got (to the semifinals) last year and came up one shot short, so hopefully we’ll get things organized and see what we can do.”
Great Falls High-Hellgate stats
Great Falls CMR 51, Kalispell Glacier 49, OT
John Cislo didn’t have enough air left to blow out his birthday candles.
The Great Falls CMR boys basketball coach had done too much shouting and instructing during the Rustlers’ 51-49 overtime win over Kalispell Glacier in the opening round of the State AA boys basketball tournament.
The game certainly didn’t start in CMR’s favor as the defending champion Wolfpack took a commanding 15-2 lead after the opening quarter. Glacier started the game on a 12-0 run before the Rustlers scored, then the Wolfpack added to the advantage on a Collin Kazmier 3 in the final seconds of the period.
Cislo’s message in the timeout was simple.
“You have to keep playing. After that first quarter there were still 24 minutes left, so you have to keep playing and playing hard. Our kids did a good job of that and the Glacier kids did a good job of it, too,” he said. “That’s a physical team, I don’t think they gave us much inside and we depended too much on the perimeter there and we would like to get the ball inside more to finish around the hoop. Credit to Glacier, they’re a physical team and a team that knows how to win, the defending champs, but I was proud of our boys for grinding and grinding and grinding, making shots and there’s no one guy here on this team, everyone chips in, which is good.”
CMR quickly chipped away at the lead in the second quarter, with Caleb Currington and Sam Vining connecting on three straight 3-pointers to bring the score to 18-12 Glacier. Vining buried his second 3 of the quarter right before the horn sounded, getting the Rustlers within 28-23 at halftime.
Cislo’s Rustlers cut the lead to four points entering the final eight minutes, where free throws became key for CMR. After the Rustlers made four straight from the charity stripe to tie the game at 38, standout Garrison Rothwell fouled out in the quarter. Glacier hit its free throws to resume its two-point lead, but Tucker Greenwell drove to the basket for an and-one situation to put CMR ahead 41-40.
Brec Rademacher scored two of his five points on a fadeaway jumper to give the Wolfpack a 42-41 advantage with 1:10 to play. After a CMR miss, Kazmier was fouled and made one of two free throws to extend the lead to 43-41, but Bryce Depping added a pair of free throws in the final seconds for CMR to tie the game at 43. Caden Harkins’ game-winning 3-point attempt was off the front of the rim as the teams headed to overtime.
Vining, who had a game-high 22 points, scored four quick points in the extra minutes to keep CMR out front, but Rademacher answered with a 3 to put Glacier ahead 48-47 with 1:17 to play. The Rustlers again went to Depping, who was fouled and connected each free throw, putting the Rustlers back in front 49-48 with under a minute remaining in the overtime. Rademacher missed his next 3-point attempt and the Wolfpack were forced to foul Vining, who hit each free throw to extend the lead to 51-48.
“Last weekend (Bryce) gave me a bad time on the bench, just joking with me, because I took him out late in the divisional game and he asked, ‘Why are you taking me out?’ I said, ‘We have to get Russell (Gagne) in there because he shoots 90 percent from the free throw line.’ He said, ‘I’ll shoot 100 coach,’ and obviously tonight he shot really well from the free throw line,” laughed Cislo.
Staring at a 3-point lead in the final 10 seconds, Cislo chose to force the Wolfpack to make free throws, and Harkins connected on the front end of a one-and-one, but Depping couldn’t control the rebound and traveled, leaving 2.9 seconds for Glacier to either tie or win.
The Wolfpack looked for crossing posts in the key, but eventually inbounded to Kazmier for a deep 3-pointer on the wing, which fell short on the rim.
“He had a good look and it was an inside-out 3, so good thing Caleb (Currington) got out with a hand up, made it a little more difficult, but he definitely had a good look,” Cislo said. “I’ll still foul with time on the clock and up three late.”
CMR’s win sets up a crosstown semifinal on Friday night, when the Rustlers take on rival Great Falls High. The two teams split during the regular season and earned the top-two seeds entering last weekend’s divisional tournament. The two programs posted identical 14-4 overall records, with 9-3 marks in conference play, which Cislo says is believed to be the best combined effort from the teams since the late 1970s or early 1980s.
“Crosstown again, the rubber match. They’re kids that know each other well and it should be a fun game. I hope the city of Great Falls gets down here. To be honest with you, I think the seasons us two teams, us and Great Falls High, have had, it’s good for the city of Great Falls,” said Cislo. “Those kids in that community deserve it, the two schools deserve it and they now get a chance to play their friends. They hang out with those kids quite a bit and Bob (Howard) is a good guy. But we have to go compete (Friday).”