Back and forth they went, like two prize fighters in a heavyweight bout.
A Flathead bucket seemed to follow every Glacier make. The Wolfpack burst onto runs to counteract the ones the Braves enjoyed.
For the second time this season, the crosstown boys basketball game was all either side could have hoped for.
Behind Tyler Johnson’s 22 points, Flathead emerged a 59-56 victor on Thursday night at Glacier High School, earning a Western AA conference win and a season sweep over the Wolfpack.
“When the crowd’s all in it, there’s nothing that can beat it,” Glacier point guard Caden Harkins said. “That’s why you play sports. It’s for those moments right there.”
It was neither easy nor comfortable for Flathead (11-6, 7-4 Western AA), which never led by more than five.
Glacier raced out of the gate on a 7-0 run and led often throughout the game. But the Braves never again allowed the Wolfpack to match that seven-point lead, staying with range even Glacier reeled off a run.
“This was pretty close to a complete game for us,” Flathead head coach Ross Gustafson said. “We didn’t have long lulls.”
Sam Elliott helped jumpstart Flathead after its slow start, scoring eight of his 12 points in the first quarter. He also led the team with six rebounds.
The Braves weathered a 9-0 Glacier spurt in the second quarter and carried a 27-26 lead to the locker room.
They also had to withstand an explosion from Harkins, who scored 13 of his team-best 15 points in the second half, including 10 in the third quarter alone, and added six assists.
Each time Flathead was threatened, however, it found an answer.
It was Elliott in the first quarter, then Johnson in the second half.
The 6-foot-3 Johnson traded buckets with Harkins for much of the third quarter and scored 14 of his game-high 22 in the final second half.
“He broke loose a little bit on us in the second half, for sure,” Glacier head coach Mark Harkins said.
His final bucket, and perhaps his most important one, came with just more than 30 seconds remaining off a backdoor feed from Eric Seaman.
“I was a little more aggressive in the second half trying to get to the rim,” Johnson said.
The layup broke a 56-all tie and sent Glacier into desperation mode on the offensive end.
Brec Rademacher launched a long 3-pointer that missed its mark, and Glacier fouled Seaman to extend the game.
With one last chance to tie, the Wolfpack lost control of the ball. Rademacher tracked it down after a Flathead player hurled it down the floor to try to drain the clock, but his halfcourt heave careened off the backboard as the senior guard collapsed in despair.
“That was a very well-played game,” Gustafson said. “Sometimes, you can get those back-and-forths, kind of like the first one, where one team’s playing really well and the other one’s not. I thought it was at a high level both ways the entire game.”
Flathead’s victory guarantees it the No. 3 seed in the upcoming Western AA divisional tournament regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s regular season finale versus Missoula Sentinel. Glacier, whose regular season is over, is the No. 4 seed.
“That’s what basketball’s supposed to be about,” coach Harkins said of Thursday night’s affair. “This is going to sting for a while, but they’re going to think back and go, ‘Wow, that was a pretty cool game.’”
Flathead 17 10 17 15 — 59
Glacier 15 11 16 14 — 56
FLATHEAD: Stephen Bridges 2 0-0 6, Eric Seaman 2 3-3 7, Oz Allen 2 0-0 4, Tyler Johnson 8 4-6 22, Sam Elliott 5 0-0 12, Anthony Jones 3 0-0 6, Dawson Smith 1 0-0 2.
GLACIER: Caden Harkins 6 1-1 15, Collin Kazmier 4 2-2 13, Brec Rademacher 2 0-1 6, Kody Jarvis 1 0-0 3, Alex Whitman 4 1-2 9, Nick Whitman 4 0-0 8, AJ Grande 1 0-0 2.