For much of the first quarter, the Flathead boys basketball team allowed a smaller, younger and seemingly less-talented Butte team to hang around and make the game competitive.
Finally, the Braves had enough of the Bulldogs nipping at their heels, and they put a stop to it in explosive fashion.
After Butte cuts its lead to 16-12 in the first quarter, Flathead reeled off a 27-3 run to grab control and dominated the remainder of the game en route to a 82-48 win at Flathead High School on Friday night.
“We talk a lot about being relentless,” said Flathead coach Ross Gustafson, gesturing as he spoke to a banner hanging in the Braves’ locker room bearing that very word. “Those guys played really well for 32 minutes.
“I was just really proud of our guys for playing to our level. We’re a little bit more experienced, little bit bigger. I think Butte’s kind of building toward something. They play a lot of young guys who just aren’t quite there yet.”
The Bulldogs appeared overmatched during Flathead’s run, which spanned from the end of the first quarter to the beginning of the third.
The Braves (3-1) switched to a zone defense that prevented outside penetration by Butte’s guards, and the Bulldogs had no answer for Flathead on the inside. The Braves camped out in passing lanes, swatted shots away and made their transition offense look effortless on their way to a 43-15 lead.
Flathead also dominated the glass, outrebounding the Bulldogs 40-11. Sam Elliott led the way with 11 boards to go with 18 points.
“(The run) just started once we started having fun,” Flathead wing Tyler Johnson said.
“We have such good chemistry. All of the seniors do especially, because we’ve been playing together for so long. It’s just nice to get going and get everyone on the same page, because once that starts, then everything starts going well.”
Johnson scored an efficient 22 points to lead the Braves offensively on a night when nearly everyone was involved at some point or another.
Stephen Bridges added 15 points on 6 of 7 shooting from the field, and Eric Seaman made 5 of 8 shots from the floor for 11 points. Only three of the 12 Braves who touched the floor failed to score.
“We had really good ball movement, good intensity and just good push up the floor, and I was on the good end of most of that,” Johnson said of his performance.
The extended run and explosive offense allowed the Flathead starters to spend much of the fourth quarter observing and cheering baskets from the bench.
It was a restful end to the Braves’ pre-holiday schedule, which concluded with just one loss to their name.
“That’s a big sign of maturity for a team to not get up and relax a little bit, but to keep playing hard,” Gustafson said. “Defensively, we’re getting there. We’ve got to get better at some things, but we can play some pretty tough D and get on those runs, which I think are always keyed by your defense.”
For Johnson, the key to success in the second half of the season is even more simple than slight defensive adjustments.
“If we come out and play hard and play together like we have in our three wins, we’ll come out on top,” the senior said. “We have a very special team this year. We just need to make sure we come ready to play.”
Butte 12 3 14 19 — 48
Flathead 20 21 21 20 — 82
BUTTE: Kash Kelly 1 0-0 3, Tommy Mellott 1 1-2 3, Clay Ferguson 5 10-11 21, Jake Vetter 1 0-0 2, Kale McCarthy 2 0-0 4, Lathan Ricketts 2 1-2 7, Trevyn Roth 1 0-0 3, Andrew Booth 1 1-1 3, Marty Hanley 1 0-0 2.
FLATHEAD: Logan Siblerud 1 0-0 2, Stephen Bridges 6 0-0 15, Matt Decker 0 1-2 1, Eric Seaman 5 0-0 11, Tyler Johnson 6 8-9 22, Sam Elliott 9 0-2 18, Andrew Siderius 1 1-3 3, Anthony Jones 3 0-0 6, Dawson Smith 2 0-0 4.