The men's basketball team at Rocky Mountain College put on quite the show last weekend against No. 1-ranked Westminster College - and it was nice to see college hoops in Billings draw a capacity crowd once again.
Many of the noisy 2,220-plus spectators who packed the Fortin Center to witness the Battlin' Bears' 78-65 conquest over the Griffins would, no doubt, also like to see Rocky and neighboring Montana State Billings men renew their rivalry at least once a season.
That tussle would definitely generate the same level of enthusiasm and excitement we saw on Saturday, and it just doesn't make any sense from a competitive or economic standpoint why the Bears and Yellowjackets are not tangling on an annual basis.
We hope something can be worked out for next year, but don't hold your breath.
With their potential fan base, both schools are sadly missing the boat in not scheduling and promoting that city showdown. However, it was nice to see Rocky's ship come in against Westminster in a thrilling Frontier Conference battle.
Rocky's basketball program started with Billings Poly back in 1931, and this is almost surely the school's first win over a top-ranked team. The way the Bears did it was something special.
Down by 10 points, 56-46, with 10:34 to play, Rocky clawed its way back by capitalizing on turnovers, converting on nearly all of its free throws and taking advantage of some crowd-driven momentum in scoring the historic triumph.
"The crowd was excellent," said forward Devin Uskoski afterward. "When we started making a run there at the end, they just got deafening loud. It was a blast."
While Westminster's No. 1 status in the NAIA received a lot of attention leading up to the game, there were some strange twists associated with the Bears and Griffins by game's end.
Westminster fell behind 20-10 at the 7:58 mark of the first half, but the Griffins then connected on 19 of their next 20 shots - including a remarkable 16 straight - to lead 56-46 with 101/2 minutes to go. Rocky ratcheted up its defensive intensity with a zone press and the Griffins committed 10 turnovers in the final nine minutes.
"No question," said Westminster coach Tommy Connor. "We did not handle that very well."
Rocky finished the game on a 32-9 run, going 14 for 14 at the foul line in the last 3:24.
"We were just being so aggressive as a team," said guard Chase Sukut, who led Rocky with 27 points. "I think that's the most aggressive we've been in a long time, if not the whole season. Once we got them on their heels, we just attacked them.
"Fortunately for us, we got a few bounces that came our way."
He was talking about the defense, but reserve DeAnthony Holmes' fadeaway jumper from the top of the key definitely bounced on the rim four or five times before dropping in to put Rocky up 66-61 with 2:24 remaining.
"I thought that was one of the biggest plays of the game," said Sukut.
While Sukut and Uskoski joined forces for 46 points and shot 12 for 12 from the foul line in the closing 1:37, Theo Jackson, Nate Richardson, Anthony Allen and Holmes all delivered big baskets, free throws, steals or rebounds as the Bears mounted their late charge.
"The kids came out and found ways to get it done," said Rocky coach Bill Dreikosen. "They did it together and that's probably what I'm most proud of."
Connor, whose 19-1 team was sitting No. 1 in the Top 25 poll for the first time in school history, said he enjoyed the big-game atmosphere and was gracious in defeat.
"They were better than us tonight," he said. "But their win and our loss is not affecting where we are at the end of the year for either of us. It's still early in the season. We'll bounce back."
If anything, for both teams, last Saturday's contest just sets up more huge games ahead.
"It gives us a little bit of confidence," Sukut said of the victory. "It shows people and our team how well we can play and what type of team we have when we show up and play basketball."
Rocky, now 3-2 in league and 14-6 overall, will return to the court tonight in Great Falls. The Bears play at Montana State-Northern on Saturday night.
They will be back at home next Thursday and Saturday against Montana Tech and Montana Western, respectively.
Let's hope big crowds and some news of a possible breakthrough in renewing one of the city's best rivalries will follow.