BELGRADE — Colstrip is the last undefeated team remaining in Class B boys basketball, putting a target on the Colts’ back.
Shelby took aim at that target in the first half of Wednesday’s first-round game at the State B tournament at the Belgrade Special Events Center, but the Colts steadied to pull away for a 62-52 win and advance to Thursday’s semifinal round.
The Coyotes, last year’s runner-up and the No. 3 seed out of the Northern B this year, hit five 3-pointers in the first half as they built a 28-27 lead at the break.
“I think we made them make tough shots, and they did make tough shots. They shot a heck of a percentage in the first half,” said Colstrip coach Joe Egan. “(Shelby’s Logan Leck), I think, was shooting 84 percent at halftime. That was keeping them going there. I think our defense was a little better than actually it looked like, just because they were making good shots, tough shots. I think our defense just hung in there, kind of grinded away on them.”
Leck and Tanner Parsons each made two 3s for Shelby in the first half. After freshman Rhett Reynolds put the Coyotes up 42-41 early in the fourth quarter, those shots quit falling, though. Colstrip responded with an 8-0 run to take a 49-42 lead it would never relinquish.
The Colts scored 23 points in the fourth quarter, making 14 of 24 free throws in the frame.
“This game was a lot of hard work, and it was just physical. Physical game,” said Colstrip’s Kobee BigBack. “Kind of almost like a scrimmage in a way, because a lot of calls we’ve always been through and have always been a little touchy in a way, but this game they let us play. It just showed that we can play both ways.”
Colstrip grew accustomed to up-and-down games in the regular season, consistently scoring 70-plus points. The Colts have played more grind-it-out games in the postseason, though, edging by Three Forks 43-40 in last week’s Southern B divisional championship.
BigBack made sure the Colts wouldn’t face the same scoring challenges on Wednesday. He scored 12 of Colstrip’s 16 first-quarter points and finished the game with 29, doing his damage in a variety of ways. He made three 3s in the game and was 8 of 11 at the free throw line.
BigBack is the son of Kenny BigBack, a 1991 graduate of Colstrip who went on to have a standout career at Rocky Mountain College, where the younger BigBack will continue his basketball career in the fall.
“I was just in the open spots, where I saw I had room to shoot and I had room to drive,” said Kobee BigBack. “Once I saw those, I took advantage of them, tried to make something happen.”
Kellen BigHead and J.T. Baer each added 12 points for the Colts in the win. Parsons and Leck each finished with 16 for Shelby, which falls into loser-out action. The Coyotes will play Rocky Boy at 10:30 a.m. Thursday.
Colstrip will take its unblemished record and the accompanying target into Thursday’s semifinal round against Missoula Loyola.
“We’re not even thinking about (the undefeated record),” Egan said. “We’re just playing one game at a time. We were all completely focused on Shelby and tried to the best job we could there. Not looking ahead, not thinking about the next game, just trying to get this one, and that’s what we’re going to do again (Thursday).”
(Game stats not available)
Missoula Loyola 64, Rocky Boy 42
After watching teams rally and trade blows during the first three games of the Class B boys basketball state tournament at the Belgrade Special Events Center, Missoula Loyola left no doubt in the night cap.
The Rams, the No. 2 seed out of the West, dominated Rocky Boy, the North’s second seed, from the tip on their way to a convincing 64-42 win Wednesday.
Loyola led 15-11 at the end of the first quarter and 33-23 at halftime. The Rams blew the game open in the third quarter, though, squashing any Rocky Boy attempt at a comeback. Loyola used a 20-4 surge in the third quarter to build an insurmountable lead that reached 30 in the early minutes of the fourth.
“Jack Lincoln was getting on the floor (diving for loose balls) when we were up by 30 in the fourth quarter,” said Loyola senior Jacob Hollenback. “Rebounding was a big part, and it showed with Cooper Waters having a huge game. Ryan Tirrell came out in the first half, played huge. We just played great as a team, ran the stuff. We just played great.”
“I think we got on the rebounds really well, got out in transition, good team basketball,” Lincoln echoed. “We wanted to make sure to try to put them away as fast as we could, leave no room for error.”
Waters finished with a huge double-double, recording game-highs of 19 points and 13 rebounds. Tirrell had 10 points and nine rebounds.
Hollenback and Lincoln didn’t have huge statistical nights — combining for 12 points and eight rebounds — but this season has been a redemption tour of sorts for them and the other six Loyola seniors. The Rams had made three consecutive trips to the state tournament from 2015-17 but saw that streak snapped last year with an embarrassing 70-33 loss to Anaconda in a Western B challenge game.
“That left a horrible taste in our mouth,” Lincoln recalled. “We were thankful for the season, but that’s not where we wanted it to end up. That’s never the goal.”
Added Hollenback: “Honestly last year was just utter disbelief. We had worked so hard the whole season, and we just came up short last year. Just this year was so much different with how we took practices, how we engaged in games, even just how we acted on the floor.”
Refocused and re-motivated, the Rams keyed on their effort this season, and it’s paid dividends. They’ve been one of the best teams in Class B all season and are back at the state tournament looking to put the finishing touches on a bounce-back season.
Loyola has had its battles with defending champion Bigfork, losing to the Vikings in the divisional championship game. Unlike last year, though, the Rams turned around and crushed St. Ignatius 84-41 in a challenge game to secure their state tournament berth.
“We didn’t play with the effort (last year),” Hollenback said. “We set the tone every game this year with playing with the absolute that we’re going to get on the ground for every ball. It’s different. That’s kind of what the difference was between this year’s challenge game and last year’s.”
That effort was evident on Wednesday when the Rams took out a year’s worth of frustration on the Northern Stars, who will play Shelby in a loser-out game at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. Wyatt Caplette paced Rocky Boy with 18 points Wednesday.
On Thursday, they’ll meet undefeated Colstrip with a berth in the state championship on the line. Loyola has never won a state title, with its best finish coming in 2016 when it lost to Choteau in the championship game.
“This season we just wanted to do everything the best we could,” Lincoln said. “We’ve got athletes, we want to play hard every game, play as a team.”
Loyola and Colstrip will meet in Thursday’s late semifinal scheduled to tip at 8 p.m.