BUTTE — There’s something about the final two minutes that makes Jesse Owens thrive. It doesn’t matter what quarter, either.
Billings West’s quick guard showed flashes of that Thursday morning in the Class AA boys basketball state tournament opener, a 56-50 win over Helena Capital. Owens had a game-high 19 points, 14 at halftime on 5-of-6 shooting, with three 3-pointers, including one as the first-period buzzer sounded.
But it was in the third quarter Owens showcased his clutch gene, stealing the ball near mid-court for an easy layup, then hitting another 3-pointer before the quarter expired.
“I just try to do whatever the team needs, whether that’s defense, offense, passing, rebounding,” said Owens. “I’m not coming in saying that I’m going to score 20-whatever points, I’m doing whatever the team needs to be done to get the win.”
The 3-pointer at the end of the third was key after Capital, which trailed 36-27 at halftime, climbed to within 38-37 early in the frame. But West went on a 5-0 run, then held the ball for the final shot with Owens and fellow guard Cade Tyson discussing the play call at the top of the 3-point line.
Tyson called the play for Owens — who started in the corner and ran a hard cut into the post, turned back into a screen and caught the ball for the open 3, which splashed through the Butte Civic Center’s net.
“Me and (Tyson) have that chemistry, so if one of us is going, we’ll call plays for the other one. So he knew that I was feeling it a little bit, so he said, ‘You run the play,’ and it ended up working,” Owens said.
Still, Guy Almquist’s Capital squad never went away, hitting a 6-0 run of their own to start the fourth quarter, getting within 54-50 with 1:29 to play. But West’s defense made three key stops in a row, starting with Josh Erbacher’s steal of a crosscourt pass that would have set up an open 3-pointer.
Lucas Gibb was then credited with a blocked shot on the ensuing possession, before Capital’s desperation shot at the end of the game was off the mark.
“That’s huge. Our guys never give up,” said Owens. “We’re going to fight until the end, that’s what we’re taught to do and that’s what’s in our blood, so we’ll keep going until that buzzer rings and we come out victorious, that’s always the goal.”
Owens finished with a game-high 19 points and five assists to go with his two steals, while Tyson added 14 points behind four 3-pointers. West post Kobe Nelson came on late in the game, scoring all six of his points in the second half, including key shots in the final minutes to help clinch the win.
Bridger Grovom led Capital with 14 points and four rebounds, while Shane Haller had nine and Trevor Swanson eight in the loss.
Despite playing the early game of the tournament, each team displayed hot shooting in the first quarter, with West eventually hitting 9-of-11 3-pointers in the first half. Capital was 4 of 10, with the majority of misfires coming in the second quarter as the Bears’ daunting 2-3 zone dared the Bruins to shoot.
“We know teams are going to zone us, so we know we’re going to have to hit open shots when we get them. That’s kind of our ride-or-die, I guess, our 3-point shot, so we work on them and work on that catch and shoot against the zone. That first half they were just falling for us,” Owens said.
“We like to switch it up on defense, we don’t like to stay in something too long to get the offense comfortable, so we like to switch it up,” he continued. “But if something is working, we like to stay in that the rest of the game.”
Billings West advances to Friday’s 3:30 p.m. semifinal game against the winner between Bozeman and Helena High, while Capital falls to a loser-out game at 9 a.m.
Bozeman 61, Helena High 48
Ryan Lonergan and the Bozeman Hawks are getting used to hitting buzzer-beating shots.
One week after Lonergan hit a three-quarter court shot at the Eastern AA divisional, teammates Carter Ash and Jackson Coles would knock down 3-pointers at the buzzer of Bozeman’s 61-48 win over Helena High on Thursday in the first round of the Class AA boys basketball state tournament at the Butte Civic Center.
Ash brought the Bozeman crowd to its feet, capping a strong second quarter, a 17-7 advantage for the Hawks, by successfully heaving a half-court shot as time expired to give Bozeman a 33-20 lead. Coles added his 3-pointer one quarter later.
“I think we’re getting used to hitting buzzer beaters now after last week,” said Lonergan, who joked that his a week ago was better than Ash’s and Coles’ Thursday. “We got two this game, so it really helps the team, helps bring our heads up when we’re not feeling so hot. Those shots that those two hit really helped our mental state.”
Bozeman didn’t necessarily need any help boosting its mental state Thursday, jumping out to a 16-13 first-quarter lead, then sparking a key 13-2 run in the second quarter, part of the 17-7 period, to take a double-digit lead it would lose only once in the final minute of the game.
Lonergan was locked in during Thursday’s second game of the tournament, scoring a game-high 18 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, the first double-double of the tournament. He also added an assist and block while shooting 7 of 15 from the floor.
“Definitely last week helped a lot, getting that tourney vibe,” Lonergan said of the Hawks’ Eastern AA divisional title. “The energy in here was awesome and all that energy gets me going, gets me in my realm.”
Thursday was the fourth consecutive win for Bozeman, which dropped its regular-season finale against Billings Senior, 57-55. Bozeman has won by an average of 29 points during the four-game win streak, including an 87-43 thrashing of Senior in the Eastern AA semifinals last Friday.
“It definitely was a wake-up call because we were going in, kind of overlooked them and we ended up losing because we thought we could just coast through that game,” Lonergan said of the Feb. 23 loss to the Broncs. “We learned we can’t do that, and I think that will help us when it comes to serious situations.”
Bozeman overcame 18 turnovers Thursday morning, the lone disappointing stat for Wes Holmquist’s program, which held the Bengals to just 28 percent shooting, 17 of 60, in the game. Helena made only 5 of 31 3-pointers in the loss, leading to numerous long rebounds and fast breaks. Bozeman only trailed once, by two points in the first quarter, before dominating the rest of the way.
“Defense always helps transition into offense, and if we get stops it will help our offense tremendously,” said Lonergan. “That’s what we did in the first half and that’s what coach really focused in on. He told us to do that and we executed.”
Ash scored 12 points and grabbed three rebounds, while Coles added 10 points and five boards for the Hawks, which shot 49 percent in the game, including a 13-for-23 start in the first half.
Helena High was led by Connor Murgel’s 13 points, while Pierce Brown added 11 and Hayden Ferguson had 10 points and five rebounds.
Helena High falls to loser-out action, meeting rival Helena Capital in Friday’s 9 a.m. contest. Bozeman meets Billings West in a 3:30 p.m. semifinal.
“We’re going to have to play lockdown defense on those two, Cade (Tyson) and Jesse (Owens), because they’re obviously phenomenal players,” Lonergan said after watching the West duo combine for 32 points in a win over Capital. “If we can lock those two down, I think we’ll have a shot at it.”