Dillon point guard Eli Nourse gets a contested shot off against Hamilton in the closely contested consolation game Saturday night at Ronan. Dillon took the win, the third place trophy and a spot opposite undefeated Lewistown in the state A bracket.
The Dillon Beavers weathered a brutal schedule in the Western A Divisional Basketball Tournament in Ronan over the weekend, facing both the Northwestern A champion and runner-up and the Southwestern A regular season champion and runner-up. The Beavers posted a 3-1 record, placed third and earned a berth at the Montana Class A State Tournament March 9-11 at the Brick Breeden Field House in Bozeman. The Beavers will face Eastern A runner-up Glendive in the opening round and owe it all to a smothering, hardworking defensive effort..
Dillon opened with the Northwestern A runner-up Browning Indians and ran them out of the gym, 46-32. Dillon faced defending state A champion and rival Butte Central in the semifinal, played a great game for all but several minutes in the third quarter, and lost for the third time on the season to the Maroons, 60-57. In the consolation bracket, Dillon defeated Northwestern A champion Columbia Falls, 47-32, and then won over Hamilton for the first time all season in the consolation game, 41-39.
The Beavers played outstanding defense throughout the tournament and sharped their senses for a state tourney run in two weeks. It was an intense four games of basketball for Dillon at Ronan.
“It was a very important game,” admitted Thomas of the third-place win over Hamilton. The loser of the Hamilton-Dillon game would face undefeated Lewistown of the Eastern A in the first round of the tourney. Lewistown upset Dillon at last year’s state A tourney in the semifinal to earn a title game berth against Butte Central. Instead of the champion, Dillon draws Glendive, the runner-up for a Thursday tourney opener at noon. “If you can stay from the other side’s number one team, that is an advantage and both Hamilton and us knew it. We’ve played Hamilton three times, 96 minutes and only a point separates us through the course of those game.”
Against Hamilton and versus all opponents Dillon played ferocious defense.
“The first half, it was unbelievable defense for the entire game,” said Thomas of his team's ability to hold Hamilton to 14 first half points. "It was a tremendous effort of man defense and kids forcing tough shots, getting rebounds, etc. So, we built a nice, solid halftime lead and credit to the kids on both ends of the floor for hustle the way they competed.”
Dillon blitzed Browning in the first round, 46-32, and then lost a close one to Butte Central, 57-60. The defending champions state champions would go on to beat Frenchtown in the title game.
The Beavers dropped down from the last semifinal game with the last to Butte Central. The game started an hour later than the 8 p.m. posted time and the Beavers returned to their hotel after 11 p.m. A short night to mull over the disappointment and then Dillon faced Northwestern A champion Columbia Falls in the consolation bracket.
Calls had great size and great three-point shooters to challenge Dillon’s defensive demon defense. Dillon completed the Dillon - Columbia Falls with the women teams from the same school with a 47-32 win to get the shot against Hamilton.
Against Butte Central Dillon went eight possessions to start the second half without scoring and took just two shots over that span as turnovers became problem.
“They didn’t change anything defensively, they just made sure we took outside shots,” said Thomas. “Since we didn’t hit a high enough percentage of outside shots in the second half, and when I say that all we needed is one more make in the first half, and one more make in the second half to win that game.”
Butte Central’s Dougie People’s, one of the state’s top players, had just 6 points at the half but erupted for a total of 33 in the second half of the contest.
“Butte Cental gave the ball to Dougie a lot more,” said the Dillon coach. “He kind of deferred a little in the first half which was good, but i just think in the second half he took way more opportunities and they were looking for him and finding him. Dougie got his share, that’s for sure.”
Dillon will find themselves on the same side of the bracket with Butte Central at the state tournament.
“It wasn’t our defense that got us beat, we just need to make more shots,” said the Dillon coach. “Those kids did a great job on defense, both man and zone, fighting and rebounding, it was really special.”