The Libby High School boys basketball team suffered a disappointing set of defeats at the Western Montana Class A Divisional Friday, with their hopes for a run at the state tournament dashed only two games in.
Right out the gate in their first game against Butte Central, the Loggers got hit hard by the much more physical team, said Libby Head Coach Josh Bean.
“They just took it to us. We couldn’t get anything done,” he said.
Libby had prepared for the the Butte offense, tweaking their zone to try to match what they had seen of the Maroons on video. But on the court, they couldn’t get past the overwhelming Maroon onslaught.
From before the season even started, Bean had said he expected physically-imposing teams to be a challenge for the Loggers, who lack size compared to some of their opponents. That really showed in how the first half played out against Butte Central, he said.
With 11 turnovers and only seven points in the first half, Libby went to the locker room down 29 points.
“We weren’t setting good screens to get people open. We weren’t passing balls to open people on time. We were just kind of getting beat up,” Bean said.
The Loggers rallied some for the third quarter, coming out to make their only double-digit quarter of the game.
“And, talked to them about it at half time — talked to them about the things we needed to fix. We came out, we played a little bit better against it in the second half,” Bean said.
Bean said he challenged the Loggers to pick up their game in the second half, and they met that challenge.
“We did what we were supposed to, and it was better, but we didn’t come out like that in the first half,” he said. “And it was frustrating — I know for the kids, and for us and for our fans, because we knew that we could play better than what we had showed against them.”
Bean said that while, unlike Browning, Butte Central is a very fundamental team that relies on strength and solid playstyle in the things they do, they are a bit like Browning in that it takes playing them to really understand them.
This was the first time the Maroons and Loggers have played each other in as long as Bean could recall, and he thinks a second encounter would look very different.
“Who knows what the result would be, but I think we would be more competitive,” he said. “And that was the frustrating part: we weren’t competitive. Butte Central was able to get and do whatever they wanted.”
For the Loggers who will return next season, they very well could have that chance to see what a rematch would look like. Bean said that a majority of the Butte Central players are juniors, and if Libby wants to make it to state next year, they are going to have to be ready for them.
Against Frenchtown, Libby had a reversal on halves where they did well, even leading the Broncs 31-25 at the half.
“Then we came out and we had a hard time putting the ball in the hole,” Bean said.
Frenchtown started the quarter with a seven-point run, catching up and pushing past Libby, but not establishing a dominating lead.
“It was a dog fight the rest of the way until, about — the first part of the fourth quarter, they had three possessions where they scored and we didn’t, and that kind of got their lead extended,” he said.
Left playing catch up, the Loggers’ fate was ultimately sealed in the final minute or so with fouls, as they sent the Broncs to the free throw line, where they went 12-16 for the quarter.
Despite senior Ryggs Johnston — who lead scoring for both teams during the game with 28 points — hitting 3s, the contributions weren’t there from the rest of the team in the second half.
Bean said that the defeat to Butt Central was “almost devastating” for the Loggers. It was the biggest loss they had taken in some time, even reaching a running clock at one point.
While that might have taken some wind out of them, they ultimately did better in the first half against Frenchtown than the second.
“You know, we’re going to have some mental lapses. They’re teenage kids,” he said. “But, their focus the first half was good, and we were good with what we were doing, so I thought we were going to be fine.”
Still, Bean said he couldn’t find fault in the effort Libby showed during the second half against Frenchtown.
“We did have some mental lapses on the defensive end of things, which allowed them to get going. And when they get going, they’re really good, obviously. I mean, they’re the fourth seed at the state tournament,” he said.
Bean said that he expects this experience will be a motivator for the Loggers who return next season.
“We know what it takes. We just have to be able to do it and compete at that level when we get there,” he said.
Western A Divisional
Thursday, Feb. 21
Libby 29, Butte Central 66
L: 4 3 15 7 - 29
BC: 18 14 24 10 - 66
Libby: Ryder Davis 2 points; Ryggs Johnston 14 points, 3-3 FT; Caden Williams 7 points, 3-5 FT; Keith Johnson 6 points.
Butte Central: Jared S 2 points; Luke H 4 points, 1-2 FT; Braden H 9 points, 2-2 FT; Dylan J 15 points, 1-2 FT; Gretor Y 4 points; Trevor N 9 points; Patrick D 3 points; Cade H 12 points, 0-2 FT; Matts 8 points, 2-3 FT.
Friday, Feb. 22
Libby 52, Frenchtown 63
L: 15 16 8 13 - 52
F: 13 12 14 24 - 63
Libby: JJ Davis 3 points; Chandler Bower 2 points; Ryggs Johnston 28 points, 3-4 FT; Jay Beagle 6 points, 2-3 FT; Caden Williams 2 points; Keith Johnson 9 points, 1-3 FT; Kevin Barnes 2 points.
Frenchtown: C Baker 18 points, 8-11 FT; M Pyron 5 points, 2-2 FT; H Rugg 4 points, 2-6 FT; Z Baker 15 points, 6-6 FT; B Larson 9 points, 1-2 FT; J Cole 3 points; D Shelton 6 points, 0-1 FT; D Leishman 3 points, 1-1 FT.