BY EVAN MCCULLERS
The Daily Inter Lake
BILLINGS — For 10 minutes, Glacier played like the relaxed, carefree underdog — the role it so fervently embraced in the week leading up to its first-round matchup with top-seeded Great Falls C.M. Russell.
The Wolfpack moved the ball smoothly and rhythmically, found open looks and knocked them down as it raced out to an 18-3 lead over the stunned Rustlers.
“We came out loose,” Glacier head coach Mark Harkins said. “We played like we’re the 4 seed, they’re the 1, so the pressure’s on them.”
But as the game tightened and time lessened, the pressure — from both the situation and the CMR defense — ratcheted up.
The free-flowing, explosive offense displayed in the first quarter ground to a halt. It cost Glacier a victory.
CMR overcame its early 15-point deficit to force overtime, and a potential game-winning shot off the hand of Glacier’s Collin Kazmier clanged off the rim at the buzzer of the Wolfpack’s 51-49 loss in the opening round of the Class AA boys state basketball tournament on Thursday afternoon at Rimrock Auto Arena.
The defeat ensures the Wolfpack will not defend its Class AA state title.
“They changed defenses, and we got kind of tentative,” said Kody Jarvis, who led Glacier in scoring with 15 despite fouling out late in the fourth quarter. “We were all scared to miss. We didn’t want to take the shot, take the risk, and that’s what got us the lead.”
Jarvis was the spark behind Glacier’s early run, driving for a bucket before knocking down a 3-pointer that forced an early CMR timeout.
“Kody was penetrating like crazy,” Harkins said. “We were kicking out, hitting shots. Our guys were playing with confidence.”
Down double digits before they could blink, the Rustlers turned to their weapon of choice throughout the regular season — the long ball.
CMR drilled three consecutive 3s, two provided by sixth man Caleb Currington, in a sudden 9-0 burst in the second quarter to put itself back in contention.
The second quarter also brought the emergence of Sam Vining, one of a trio of Rustlers who averaged double figures in the regular season.
The 6-foot-2 senior guard dropped 11 of his game-high 22 in the second period.
His performance was even more valuable given the disappearance of CMR’s other two prolific scorers.
Jake Olsen managed just four points on 1 of 6 shooting on the day, and Garrison Rothwell also scored only four after spending most of the game in foul trouble.
“Vining’s an amazing shooter,” Jarvis said. “You’ve gotta give him credit.
“We just tried to not switch any screens on Vining and get around front with Rothwell to hopefully get him in foul trouble, and we did that best we could.”
Despite CMR exploding for 21 points in the second quarter, Glacier’s steady offensive production allowed it to maintain a lead throughout the period. The same couldn’t be said in the second half.
CMR switched to a trapping, half-court zone defense, eliminating the offensive rhythm that propelled the Wolfpack on its extended run early.
“As the game got closer, we lost that aggressiveness,” Harkins said. “We played not to lose instead of played to win.”
After Glacier took a 34-25 lead near the middle of the third quarter, CMR reeled off a 13-4 run to deadlock the game at 38.
Brec Rademacher, the Wolfpack’s leading scorer, emerged with his first points of the game to give Glacier a 42-41 edge with under a minute left, but a pair of CMR free throws with six seconds left tied the game.
Glacier totaled just 15 points in the second half.
“They did a great job flying around, getting to (Rademacher) and covering him,” Harkins said. “Instead of turning and attacking that pressure, we were satisfied with kicking it back out.”
After Caden Harkins’ 3 at the regulation buzzer bounced off the front of the rim, Vining scored six of CMR’s eight points in the overtime period to help the Rustlers to the win.
Kazmier’s contested 3 at the horn hit the rim but wouldn’t fall, as he and Rademacher collapsed onto the hardwood in despair.
“It’s tough,” Jarvis said. “We had many opportunities to win that game. I firmly believe we should’ve won that game.”
Coming off its second consecutive overtime loss, Glacier will now attempt to refocus and make a run through the consolation bracket.
The Wolfpack faces Missoula Hellgate at noon today. It lost to the Knights twice during the regular season, including a 32-point shellacking on the road.
“Let’s go get third,” Harkins said of his message to the team after its heartbreaking loss. “Ain’t nothing else we can do.
“There’s two teams that leave this tournament with a win, and we’d like to be one of them.”
CMR 2 21 9 11 8 — 51
Glacier 15 13 8 7 6 — 49
GREAT FALLS CMR — Caleb Currington 2 0-0 6, Jacob Wilkins 1-1 0-0 2, Jake Olsen 1 2-2 4, Garrison Rothwell 2 0-0 4, Tucker Greenwell 1 3-3 5, Sam Vining 6 7-11 22, Bryce Depping 0 6-6 6, Russell Gagne 1 0-0 2.
GLACIER — Caden Harkins 3 1-2 7, Collin Kazmier 3 3-4 11, Brec Rademacher 2 0-0 5, Kody Jarvis 6 2-3 15, Drew Engellant 1 2-2 4, Alex Whitman 1 2-2 4, Nick Whitman 1 1-2 3.
Great Falls 9 12 19 16 — 56
Hellgate 9 13 11 16 — 49
Great Falls HIGH — Hunter McKinney 9, Kendall Kynett 19, Blake Thelen 12, Kyle Torgerson 2, Kevin Boes 9, Kyle Winkler 1, Keegan Bistodeau 4.
MISSOULA HELLGATE — Bridger Deden 18, Dylan Holst 2, Kade Lunday 6, Rollie Worster 16, Fisher Richardson 2, Abe Johnson 5.
Helena 9 9 10 12 — 40
Bozeman 16 14 18 17 — 65
Helena High — Dawson Tedesco 7, Hayden Ferguson 6, Carson Woodland 3, Josiah Shelley 2, Alex Johnson 3, Grady Koenig 11, Connor Murgel 3, Holden Sampson 5.
Bozeman — Ryan Simpson 8, Tyler Dobie 6, Jashon Mendoza 2, Robbie Simpson 10, Latrell McCutcheon 2, Payton Price 2, Ryan Lonergan 15, Mack Anderson 16, Carter Ash 2, Jack Carr 2.
Sentinel 14 20 10 15 — 59
Senior 19 12 16 14 — 61
Missoula Sentinel — Sam Beighle 32, Gaige DeShazer 17, Alex Germer 5, Scott Malikie 2, Trey Kolb 3.
Billings Senior — Braxton Haws 19, Ben LaBeau 5, Connor Kieckbusch 19, Slade Cobb 2, Junior Bergen 2, Brooks Zimmer 10, Sam Evenson 4.
6:30 p.m.— Great Falls High vs. Great Falls C.M. Russell
8 p.m. — Bozeman vs. Billings Senior
Noon — Missoula Hellgate vs. Glacier
1:30 p.m. — Helena High vs. Missoula Sentinel