After preaching for two weeks to feed the ball down low, the Stevensville Yellowjackets delivered just in the nick of time.
In a matchup featuring two of the top three win-loss records in the state, Stevensville’s Zach Gavlak scored a layup with 11 seconds remaining to give the Yellowjackets a thrilling 65-64 win over Browning in the first round of the State A boys basketball tournament Thursday at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark.
Gavlak’s layup was one of many game changing baskets in a heart-stopping fourth quarter that featured 10 lead changes, six in the final two minutes.
“Our team was very focused all week,” said Gavlak, the 6-foot-4 junior who finished with 12 points and overcame committing a team-high 11 turnovers.
“We did what we needed to do down the stretch and got down the floor quick. Once I got the pass and put up the shot, it felt amazing. More than anything, it’s nice to celebrate with my team for the first win of the tournament.”
After a fast-paced first quarter that featured four ties and four lead changes, Stevensville (18-3) went on a run early in the second frame establishing a seven-point advantage that they held until the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Using a frantic full-court pressure defense that forced Stevensville to commit a season-high 31 turnovers, Browning (17-4) finally broke through in the fourth quarter and grabbed a 47-46 lead with 7:32 remaining -- its first since the 2:23 mark in the first quarter when it was ahead 15-14.
“We generally don’t play that up-tempo style, that’s more open gym type stuff and if you’re not ready for it, it’s hard to simulate that,” said Keith Chambers, who is in his 22nd season as coach at Stevensville. “We were just fortunate we were ahead when time ran out.”
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After taking the lead and forcing another turnover, Browning capitalized on a key three-point play from Jalen Croff to cap an 8-0 run and take its largest lead of the game, 50-46.
After that, Chambers called a timeout to emphasize to his team to feed the post more, and that’s exactly what the Yellowjackets did. Jesse Sims scored on a layup, and then on the next trip down the floor had a three-point play of his own to help Stevensville regain the lead 51-50.
Sims finished with a team-high 20 points converting on 8 of 9 free throw attempts and added nine rebounds.
“They didn’t do anything different than we thought, they just had more energy then we did in the second half,” said Chambers. “You have to fight fire with fire and our decision making was suspect at times, but it’s easy to sit on the sidelines and say you should have done things differently. Again, we were very fortunate enough to win at the end.”
DeeJay Lazy Boy had a game-high 25 points for Browning, but missed a 3-pointer from the top of the key just after time expired in the fourth quarter.
“I was waiting for Stevensville to crack because we were going hard at them for the last two quarters,” said first-year Browning coach Mark Magee. “I knew they were tired and I thought a couple times we let them rest when we should have attacked. They found their second wind a couple of times and that was the difference in the game. They are a great team and knew what it would take to get the job done.”
Stevensville, which has never won a boys state basketball championship, will face Laurel in the semifinals at 6:30 p.m. Friday in a matchup of the two top-ranked teams in Class A the majority of the season. Laurel defeated Columbia Falls 59-50 on Thursday.
Columbia Falls and Browning will square off Friday at 12:30 p.m. in a loser-out contest.