The Bulldogs survived a late-game scare by the Braves, winning 77-74 by converting at the free throw line and maintaining their composure in a game where rhythm was hard to come by.
The Braves opened Saturday’s game with full-court pressure defense, but the speed and size of the Bulldogs helped them break through to the basket in the first half. With the press not working, the Braves found themselves in foul trouble early.
“I thought they handled our defensive pressure, so we didn’t get the tempo we wanted,” said Flathead coach Dirk Johnsrud to 406mtsports.com. “I was surprised at how well Butte executed their stuff. They also won the rebounding battle, so that’s a testament to the Butte Bulldogs.”
The game was tied after the first quarter at 14, but the Bulldogs seemed to pull away in the second. The Bulldogs added cushion to their lead in the third and led by as much as ten in the game.
The fourth quarter was a different story, though. The Bulldogs continued to play through big man Jake Olson who finished with 25 points. Thanks to hot shooting by Hunter Hickey, the Braves saw the lead with three minutes remaining after they trailed for nearly the whole game.
“Hats off to Flathead. We had a nice little lead there and they erased it in about 30 seconds,” Butte coach Matt Luedtke said. “They played hard and we played hard, we were just lucky to have scored a few more points than they did. I think our guys did what they had to to win.”
With under two minutes remaining in the game, the Braves trailed by four when they tried to draw a charging foul. To the disdain of Braves fans that made the trip to Butte, the foul was ruled a block and resulted in the Bulldogs extending their lead to six.
The Braves had not quit though, as they found themselves trailing by just one point, thanks to an off-balance three-pointer by Hunter Hickey with under 50 seconds remaining.
The building erupted, both out of cheer and disgust, when two players dove for a lose ball that resulted in a Flathead foul, not a jump ball. The Bulldogs hit both free throws, as they had throughout the game, and the Braves were unable to pull off the comeback.
“We haven’t kept our composure well and in a close game like this, it showed up,” Johnsrud said. “But I think our team fought well. I can’t pick out a kid off the team, just overall we gritted it out all game. But with that said, we still have a lot of work to do.”
Joston Cripe led the Braves in scoring with 23 on four three-pointers. Hunter Hickey had 17 points, Gabe Adams contributed 15 and Ethan Vanderbosch added 14. The Braves committed 26 fouls that resulted in 26 points from the line for the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs leaned on Jake Olson for scoring, as he finished with 25. Cael Stenson had 12, 10 of which came from the free throw line. Mikey O’Dell had 11 points on two 3-pointers.
“It feels good to win one at home coming off a road loss, we ran our two-three zone and they did what they had to,” Luedtke said. “We’re obviously going to work on our defense some more, we gave up some easy shots. We’re just going to get back to the grime stone and continue to get better.”
Flathead will face Kalispell-Glacier next Friday at 6:30 p.m. The Braves are now 2-2 on the season. For the Bulldogs, they also sport a .500 record after tonight’s win, and will face Missoula-Hellgate next Friday at 7 p.m.
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