The Dillon Beavers had improved throughout the season and nearly reached the top of the awards stand at the Montana Class A State Basketball Tournament this past weekend at Bozeman. Dillon opened with a decisive win over Eastern A runner-up Glendive, 57-46, upset defending State A champion Butte Central in the semifinal round, 62-53, and then lost to undefeated Lewistown in the title game, 54-47.
The impressive run through the bracket came on Hall of Fame coach Terry Thomas’ last weekend as a coach at Beaverhead County High School, a job he has held for the past 37 school years. He explained the mindset he and his staff fostered during the season to put the players in position to succeed.
“We’ve been talking consistently throughout the course of the year that we weren’t going to do anything different than what they practiced,” said Thomas. “Over the course of the year we got better day by day, week by week. I think with that confidence in knowing that whatever their best is, is fine and their best is good enough and they just went out and played. They did a good job of sharing the basketball, moving the basketball around and when they got it, they shot it with confidence and knocked down the big shots throughout the course of the tournament.”
A sore spot entering the tourney was consistent perimeter shooting from the three-point line. The Beavers stepped up their game in that area, hitting big shots from long-range at key moments in both the Butte Central and Lewistown game.
Dillon took an 11-10 first quarter lead and tied the championship game on Treyton Graham’s buzzer beater three-pointer to go to intermission knotted at 23-23. The game was a true title game battle with 10 lead changes and two ties throughout the course of 32 minutes of regulation play.
Halfway through the third period Royce Robinson, Lewistown’s star senior, hit two consecutive buckets to push his team’s lead to 30-25 late in the third quarter, igniting a wild scoring surge. In just over a minute of game time, Dillon’s Kyler Engellant, a 6-4 sophomore, hit a three-pointer, and Lewistown’s Fischer Brown, a 6-5 junior answered with a trey, Engellant countered with another bomb, Brown hit yet another three and then in a wild scramble with time running out, Engellant hooped a two-pointer to set the score at 33-36 in favor of Lewistown at the end of the third quarter.
“I thought we did a great job of putting defensive pressure on Lewistown throughout the game as we went back and forth from one zone defense to another and offensively, I thought we did a nice job of attacking the basket and sharing the basketball and getting some good shots,” said Thomas. “On the boards it was quite a battle all night long, very physical and our kids did a tremendous job of attacking. It just came down to late in the game we needed to get a couple of defensive stops and make a couple of buckets and Lewistown did that and we didn’t and that’s how close the game was. It was back and forth all game long and then when time was running out, they were able to get a couple of stops and pull it out.”
Brown made 7 of 10 free throws over the last 1:33 to put the game away for Lewistown. Senior point guard Eli Nourse made a layup and sophomore Connor Curnow hit a free throw for Dillon’s only points during that final stretch in which Lewistown’s lead grew from 44-46 to 47-54.
“Both of their star players really played well,” said Thomas. “The game plan that we had, played out like we wanted it to and gave us a chance to win the game at the end. We needed to come up with a couple of big stops late and hit a couple of big shots and we weren’t able to do it.”
Lewistown’s Robinson with 21 and Brown with 25 points combined for 46 of Lewistown’s 57 points. Engellant led Dillon with 14, fellow sophomore Carter Curnow hit for 11, and seniors Nourse and Graham had 8 and 7 points, respectively.
Upon reflection on Monday, Thomas was struck by his team’s improvement throughout the season and finishing strong down the stretch in a “kind of story book season.”
“It would have been icing on the cake to win the championship of course, but it was certainly a run to remember,” said Thomas. “You have that little bit of a pit in your stomach when you have a chance to win it all and you don’t get it, but then when you sit back and have a chance to reflect on how great a year it was and how special it was to make a run for it, that makes a person feel good and satisfied that you did the best you could under the circumstances.”
Dillon’s big win of the tourney came Friday night over defending state A champion Butte Central. The Maroons had a three-game winning streak over Dillon on the season and five games dating back to last year, but it was Dillon’s night all night on Friday.
“They were confident in their preparation, in their ability and because of that they just let the game flow,” said Thomas of his team’s relaxed, confident approach to the game. “They took it with confidence and because of that it was one on the big wins that we’ve had.”
Dillon senior Caden Hansen led Dillon with 3 of 4 three-pointers (and a team-high 15 points), and Nourse and Engellant each hit two treys as Dillon connected on 8 of 24 compared to Central’s 5 of 23 from the arc to account for Dillon’s 9-point margin of victory.
In the opener versus Glendive, Dillon led throughout but poured it on in the second half, stretching a 26-21 halftime lead to 57-46 at the final buzzer.
DILLON 47, LEWISTOWN 54
Dillon (18-7) scoring — Carter Curnow 11, Caden Hansen 0, Max Davis 4, Eli Nourse 8, Treyton Graham 7, Kyler Engellant 14, Kee Christiansen 3.
Lewistown (24-0) scoring — Matthew Golik 2, Maxx Ray 0, Fischer Brown 25, Gage Norslien 4, Royse Robinson 21, Brody Jenness 0, Trajan Sparks 2, Avery Crouse 0.
DILLON 62, BUTTE CENTRAL 53
Dillon scoring — Carter Curnow 9, Caden Hansen 15, Maxx Davis 7, Eli Nourse 13, Treyton Graham 5, Kyler Engellant 9, Kee Christiansen 4, Tyler Lagunas 0.
Butte Central scoring — Dougie Peoples 21, Jack Keeley 6, Kyle Holter 10, Eric Loos 9, Owen McFarland 0, Zane Moodry 5, Joshua Sutton 2, Konnor Pochervina 0.
DILLON 57, GLENDIVE 46
Dillon scoring — Carter Curnow 12, Caden Hansen 11, Max Davis 6, Eli Nourse 10, Treyton Graham 3, Parker Puyear 0, Kee Christiansen 6, Kyler Engellant 9, Tyler Lagunas 0, Damon Skradski 0, Cooper Anderson 0.
Glendive scoring — Hohbe Smith 0, Chase Crockett 4, Carter Amsler 7, Michael Murphy 9, Levi Eaton 23, Kaden Haffner 0, Riley Phipps 3, Shann McPherson 0, Jake Williams 0, Aiden Cayko-Zody 0.