The Broncs started out hot, then kept their cool.
Billings Senior built an early lead and survived a second-half rally by Bozeman on Friday night to outlast the Hawks 61-59 in a fast-paced and hard-fought Eastern AA boys basketball game at the Senior gym.
“Coach kept telling us ‘Composure, composure, composure,’” Senior’s Cooper Kouwenhoven said of coach Jim Wilsey. “We knew Bozeman was gonna make a run in the second half. We knew we just had to keep our composure and come back with a run of our own, and we did that.”
The win is Senior’s second this season over the No. 3-ranked Hawks, handing Bozeman their only two conference losses. Senior (6-5 overall, 3-2 Eastern AA) defeated Bozeman (8-3, 3-2) by a 66-64 score on Jan. 5 at Bozeman.
“I can’t believe that team has five losses,” said Bozeman coach Wes Holmquist. “They’ve played two great games against us. I told Coach Wilsey after the game that he probably wishes he could play us every night.
“Senior made every play when they needed to make it, and they got to every 50-50 ball. That’s a good team.”
The win marked the first back-to-back wins this season for the Broncs, who routed Butte 78-30 in their previous game last Saturday. Kouwenhoven said Friday night’s win was a confidence-booster for Senior.
“We’ve lost some games that we shouldn’t have,” said Kouwenhoven, who led Senior with 14 points. “We lost to Hellgate after we were up 18-1 and we lost at the buzzer against Sheridan (Wyo.). Tonight was big for us. We knew we could play with Bozeman after that first game against them, and we came out tonight and got the job done.”
Senior shot 50 percent (14 of 28) from the field in the first half — including 6 of 11 on 3-pointers — to build an 11-point lead in the first half and a 38-30 halftime lead.
Bozeman rallied to tie the score twice in the third quarter, including 46-46 on a driving layup by Nick Hostetler with seven seconds left in the quarter. But Kouwenhoven answered, burying a deep 3-pointer from beyond the top of the key at the buzzer.
“We played hard and we hit some big shots,” said Wilsey, the Broncs’ first-year coach. “We didn’t shoot as well in the second half, but we hit some big ones. Bozeman is really good ... we knew they were going to come after us in the second half, and our kids did what they needed to do to hold them off.”
Bozeman scored the first five points of the fourth quarter to grab a 51-49 lead, but the Hawks then went the next 41/2 minutes without scoring as Senior scored seven straight points.
Collin Moriarty hit a long 3-pointer — his sixth of the game on seven attempts — at the 1:40 mark to pull Bozeman to within 56-54. But the Hawks would not score again until a pair of desperation buckets in the final eight seconds that cut a 61-54 Senior lead to a final score of 61-59.
Senior sealed the win by hitting five straight free throws in the final 39 seconds. Kouwenhoven hit the last two after making a steal at midcourt with 25 seconds left.
“Actually, I got beat on that play,” said Kouwenhoven with a grin. “My guy got by me, but Trevin (McNeil) was there and made him cross over, so I was able to steal it from behind. I don’t know what would have happened there if Trevin wouldn’t have been there.”
McNeil added 13 points for Senior, including three 3-pointers in the first half. Tad Rose had 12 points, and Chad Newell added eight points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
“This was a big win for us,” said McNeil. “I’m sure Bozeman thought that first win was kind of a fluke, so we wanted to prove that it wasn’t. We can play like this all the time ... we just have to keep working hard in practice and doing what we’re supposed to do.”
Senior’s next game is Tuesday at home against Billings Skyview.
Moriarty scored a game-high 18 for Bozeman. P.J. Thomas added 12 and Matt Hape 10 for the Hawks, who host Missoula Sentinel today.