On a night when it's offensive rhythm was virtually nonexistent, the Belgrade boys basketball team had no choice but to get defensive.
It paid dividends against visiting Three Forks.
The Panthers employed an aggressive zone defense, contesting nearly every Wolves shot on the perimeter and bottling up Duston Young down low. Belgrade forced 16 turnovers, limited Three Forks to 28 percent shooting and surrendered just 15 points in each half en route to a 39-30 victory at the Special Events Center.
“We zoned them up because we couldn’t match their size down low, and it was effective,” Panthers head coach Mike Deming said. “I think the zone saved the day, and we did just enough to win.”
That’s an understatement.
Belgrade (6-3) could muster just four points and one field goal during a lackluster third quarter and missed 16 of 20 shot attempts in the final 16 minutes. Thanks to an auspicious start, however, it still maintained a comfortable lead down the stretch.
Trevor Mahn buried an open jumper and converted from beyond the arc in succession to stake the Panthers to an 5-0 lead about two minutes into the first quarter. Jeremy Ragar pitched in with a 3-pointer from the corner, and Shiloh Christopher shook free underneath for an easy lay-in for Belgrade, which led 10-6 after eight minutes.
Ragar and Jered Bryant hit back-to-back 3s late in the second, and then Christopher rolled off a screen and nailed a mid-range jumper to extend the advantage to 24-15 heading to the break.
Three Forks (5-4) struggled to keep pace, turning the ball over eight times and hitting just 6 of 21 shot attempts in the first 16 minutes.
“They gave us plenty of chances to stay in the game, but we didn’t take advantage of anything,” Wolves head coach Mike Sauvageau lamented. “All night long, two-on-ones and we didn’t get anything out of it, lots of looks inside that we didn’t get anything out of. … They flustered us from the get-go, and we never responded.”
Three Forks appeared primed to climb back into this contest during a third quarter in which the Panthers converted just once from the field — a basket in the lane from Brandon Karnath. The Wolves scored seven points in the frame, however, and trailed 28-22 heading to the fourth.
Despite his decided size advantage, Young finished with eight points — two in the final half. No other Three Forks player scored more than four.
“When you’re (6-foot-5) guy (gets one shot to fall) in the second half, something’s wrong,” Sauvageau said. “We had twice as many turnovers as them, and they weren’t even putting pressure on us. It comes down to taking care of the ball and getting it to our shooters, but we didn’t do a good job of either one. We had a couple good shooters that didn’t hit anything all game, and that really takes us out of our rhythm.”
Still, Three Forks had a chance to pull this one out in the fourth quarter. Jackson Rose banked home a shot — his lone make in 13 attempts — early in the fourth to trim the deficit to four, but Mahn responded with an acrobatic drive and scoop shot in the lane.
Soon after, a Tyler Gootkin 3 pulled the Wolves to within 3. Belgrade had an answer again, however; Karnath nailed a shot from behind the arc on the ensuing possession.
“He was in foul trouble most of the first half, but he brings a lot of energy to the team,” Deming said of Karnath. “Maybe all that sitting on the bench gave him some extra energy to knock down those shots in the fourth.”
Bryant hit a clutch 3 with 1:15 remaining to push the lead to nine and effectively secure a win. He pulled down seven rebounds and finished with 10 points, joining Mahn (11) in double figures. Ragar pitched in with eight and Karnath six for the Panthers, who shot 33 percent.
“I think our guys took good shots. Some fell and some didn’t,” Deming said. “Both teams played good defense. We’ve wanted to focus on defense more since Tuesday, and I think our guys responded with a good team effort tonight.”
Belgrade 39, Three Forks 30
Three Forks 6 9 7 8–30
Belgrade 10 14 4 11 – 39
THREE FORKS (5-4)
Tucker Bronson 1-4 1-2 3, Chad Houska 2-2 0-0 6, Dustin Young 4-8 0-2 8, Jackson Rose 1-13 1-2 3, Leyton Bellamy 0-3 4-4 4, Tyler Gootkin 2-2 0-0 6, Cooper Lowler 1-1 0-0 2. Totals: 11-39 FG 6-10 FT 30.
Ryan Townsend 0-2 0-0 0, Jared Bryant 3-1 2-2 10, Brandon Karnath 2-3 1-3 6, Shiloh Christoper 2-5 0-2 4, Trevor Mahn 5-13 0-0 11, Jeremy Ragar 2-4 2-2 8, Koby Ruff 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 14-42 FG 5-9 FT 39.
3-pointers – Three Forks 2-8 (Gootkin 2-2); Belgrade 6-22 (Ragar 2-3, Bryant 2-7, Karnath 1-3, Mahn 1-6). Rebounds – Three Forks 29 (Brosnon 5, Rose 5); Belgrade 24 (Bryant 7). Assists – Three Forks 7 (Gootkin 2, Rose 2); Belgrade 12 (Mahn 4). Steals – Three Forks 4 (Houska 3); Belgrade 11 (Bryant 3, Mahn 3). Blocks – Three Forks 1 (Young); Belgrade 3 (Christopher 2).