One saw the look in Wes Holmquist’s eyes.
Then in his facial expression. And his posture.
“How did that game get as close as it did?”
Bozeman beat Belgrade 72-66 on Wednesday night at South Gym in the restart of high school hoops in the Gallatin Valley. The Hawks moved to 2-3 overall, but spent the better part of the game’s final 14 minutes trying to hold Belgrade at bay. The Panthers erased a 20-point third-quarter deficit and pulled within a scant two baskets (70-66) on a 3-pointer with 33 seconds left in the contest.
Downstairs, below the family members who milled around waiting for sons and husbands to emerge, Holmquist spent roughly 15 minutes preaching leadership, effort and mental toughness. The Bozeman head coach spoke of getting rid of the lulls, sticking to the gameplan and system and playing together as a team, a program.
It was a speech one might hear at the outset of a new season, or possibly as conference play begins. But it was one that was necessary, Holmquist noted, if the Hawks wish to reach the Class AA state tournament at season’s end.
“We’ve been doing this all year,” Holmquist said. “Except for the game at Senior, we go through lulls where we just kind of start coasting. We’ve got to learn how to stay consistent. Not only with our effort, it’s more mental. We’ve got to be a little bit tougher mentally where we’re making better decisions.”
After Jeremy Ragar’s trey — just one of seven Belgrade (4-3) sank in 25 attempts – went through, Bozeman sank 2-of-7 free throws to clinch it. The Hawks also benefitted from a little bit of luck as the Panthers missed three shots, including a right-through-the-lane wide-open layup by Koby Ruff, to end the contest.
“They broke down defensively, don’t match up and we were able to get an uncontested layup. We just didn’t finish,” Belgrade head coach Mike Deming said. “That could have put a little more pressure on them, but I like the way my guys played and competed all the way to the end.”
The visitors scored 45 points in the second half, including 26 in the final eight minutes. Most of Belgrade’s points, as has been the case during Deming’s tenure, came from beyond the arc. The Panthers hit 6-of-15 3-pointers in the second half, but also sank 13-of-18 free throws in the final 16 minutes to help close the gap.
Bozeman was whistled for 16 fouls in the second half and 27 overall; Deming’s team sank 23-of-32 free throws. Hawks Will Dissly and Cody Bender both fouled out of the contest, and Bender’s final foul was a technical foul that led to five Belgrade points and the 70-66 deficit.
It wasn’t as if the officials showed any bias in the AA vs. A matchup; the Panthers were called for 22 fouls and had to sit both Trevor Mahn and Brandon Karnath after they exhausted their five personals. But Bozeman sank just 7-of-14 from the charity stripe in the second half and missed five of its last seven from the line.
Mahn (20 points in 15 minutes) left the game with 7:37 to play and Karnath (13 points) exited after hitting a 3-pointer to slim Bozeman’s edge to 63-55. But Ryan Townsend (14 points) netted five in a row and Ragar followed with all six of his points in a span of 1:13.
“We were fortunate to be in the right spot at the right time and capitalized on some of their mistakes,” Deming said. “If we bring that energy and competitive fire every game, we could be very good by the end.”
The Hawks, meanwhile, went back to what propelled them to leads of 12-0, 18-5 and 23-7: working the ball inside. Bozeman’s final 15 points were all scored from either the free throw line or within five feet of the hoop; center Oliver Carr scored seven of his career-high 28 points in the final 4:39. Bender added 19, with 10 of them coming on layups and short jumpers, while nine of Will Dissly’s 12 points came via four baskets in the paint and a foul shot after a made bucket.
Bozeman was 23-for-35 on 2-point field goals and 5-of-20 from beyond the arc. The need to fire up 3-pointers and missing 13 attempts from the charity stripe was another head-scratcher for Holmquist.
“You get a little lackadaisical, get a big lead, then you come down and make one or two passes and take a quick shot,” Holmquist said. “That comes down to the discipline. We’ve got to learn how to be disciplined for the entire 32 minutes instead of just 16 out of 32 or 18 out of 32.”
Gidal Kaiser can be reached at 582-2670 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @gidalkaiser.