MISSOULA — After a dominant start, the Missoula Hellgate Knights had to fend off a fourth-quarter Helena Bengals rally to secure their first boys basketball win of 2021.
In the end, the Knights did just that, winning 47-41.
From the start, both teams struggled to find the bottom of the net in the first quarter, but when they did it came with some flare. Helena's Sam Norum drove the lane and finished with an emphatic two-handed slam over Hellgate's Josh Wade to make it 4-2 Bengals.
But Wade responded in the second quarter with an impressive right-hand jam on the fast break to make it 9-7, forcing Helena to call a timeout.
In the second quarter, both teams found their rhythm and the Knights took a 22-17 lead into the locker room at the break.
In the third quarter, Hellgate took over on both sides of the ball, outscoring the Bengals 21-5.
"We were just flying around a little more," said Wade. "We were getting into them and pressuring them on the baseline. They made some high throws and we were able to deflect passes and get some steals and go in transition."
Senior captain Beckett Arthur scored all eight of his points in the third quarter as the Knights took a 43-22 lead into the final quarter.
However, Helena flipped the script in the fourth quarter, outscoring Hellgate 19-4.
Helena's Austin Zeiler scored a crucial bucket plus the foul, but he missed the free throw to make it 45-39 with 21.8 seconds remaining. Then the Bengals got another and-1 from Norum, who also missed the free throw to make it 45-41 with 5.5 seconds.
The Bengals were forced to foul the rest of the way as Hellgate held on for the win.
"I think it got exposed there in the fourth quarter, but it's early in the season," said Hellgate coach Jeff Hays. "Basketball is a game of runs, both good and bad, and we talked about that before the game. I thought we had a terrific surge. We finished the second quarter strong, but that third quarter was very good basketball. We moved it well, we shot it well. Defensively, we were active and we rotated and came up with a few turnovers and converted on those."
Helena was led by Zeiler, who had a team-high 15 points but had a tough night at the line, going 4 for 8. Norum finished the night with 10 points and Evan Barber added eight.
Hellgate was led by Wade, who finished with 15 points and ended perfect from the line, going 6 for 6.
"We're a pretty inexperienced group, so they made a run at us in the fourth quarter," said Wade. "But it's just getting a win builds the confidence anyways, so we're just going to keep moving forward with that."
Another bright spot on the Hellgate offense and defense was junior Cayvey LaRance, who ended with 12 points.
"He's another playmaker that can drive and finish," said Hays. "He sees the floor well ... and when he's engaged defensively, he can corral the ball, he can get deflections, and we need more of that consistency from him, along with everyone else."
Hellgate will take on the other team from Helena, the Capital Bruins, Saturday at 3:45 p.m. in Helena.