Up 35-18 at halftime, it looked like the Flathead boys basketball team would cruise to an easy win in its conference opener.
But the Braves needed every one of those points as they survived a second-half surge from Missoula Big Sky and escaped with a 51-48 Western AA victory on Thursday at Flathead High School.
“Every conference win is huge. So the most important thing tonight is that we got the win,” Flathead coach Ross Gustafson said.
The Braves (4-3 overall, 1-0 conference) dominated the early proceedings, outscoring the Eagles 15-3 in the first quarter. The lead grew to 18-3 before the shots finally started to fall for Big Sky (1-8, 0-3).
“I thought our guys played really hard. Our defense was really outstanding, especially in that first half,” Gustafson said.
The Braves’ leading scorer, Gabe Adams, found himself in early foul trouble, but Andrew Siderius stepped in at center and paced the team with 9 points in the first half.
“He came in, was ready to go, and he delivered. That was absolutely huge for us,” Gustafson said.
The Braves scored the first basket of the third quarter to take a 19-point lead, but Big Sky went on an 11-1 run as Flathead committed careless turnovers and could get nothing going on offense.
“We have a tendency to get a big lead and then we get a little more casual, we stand around a little bit more. We don’t fly around on defense quite as much,” Gustafson said.
“They definitely started playing and pressuring us a little bit more ... but we’ve got to be able to handle that.”
Adams also fouled out with two minutes left in the quarter.
“I feel bad for him ... Sometimes you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time and you’re the one that picks up the fouls,” Gustafson said.
The Braves still led 40-29 going into the fourth, and started the quarter with a quick 6 points to push the lead back to 17. Yet the Eagles would not go away, chipping at the Braves’ lead as Flathead struggled to execute on both sides of the ball.
Gabe Baily had 8 points in the frame, and hit a 3-pointer with three seconds on the clock to make it 50-48. Then Flathead’s Stephen Bridges missed his second of two free throws with 0.8 seconds left, but Braves fans could exhale when Andrew Gardanier’s full-court heave hit the backboard and missed the rim.
“We’ve got to learn to close out ball games. We’ve got to learn to play a little bit tougher down the stretch and make the right play, make the smart play. If we do that, we’re gonna be a pretty dang tough team,” Gustafson said.
Bridges led the Braves with 12 points, and Siderius finished with 11. Seth Moon and Tannen Beyl added 8 apiece.
Dan Morin had a game-high 14 points for the Eagles, including four 3-pointers. Camdyn LaRance and Gardanier both had 11.
The Braves will be at Glacier (3-3, 1-0) today at 8 p.m. for the season’s first crosstown battle.
“We’d better be [ready]. We’re feeling pretty good, but it’s going to be a heck of a matchup,” Gustafson said.
Missoula Big Sky 3 15 11 19 – 48
Flathead 15 20 5 11 – 51
BIG SKY – Camdyn LaRance 11, Daniel Morin 14, Gabe Bailey 8, Brady Tabish 2, Andrew Gardanier 11, Everett Fred 2.
FLATHEAD – Tannen Beyl 8, Stephen Bridges 12, Seth Moon 8, Blake Counts 2, Brett Thompson 2, Gabe Adams 7, Anthony Jones 1, Andrew Siderius 11.