As Bozeman broke its huddle with 30 seconds left in overtime, head coach Wes Holmquist had a simple message for his team.
Find a way.
The Hawks nearly did. Their defensive pressure forced a Kalispell Glacier travel and they gained possession. Brady Lang caught a pass at the top of key with a few ticks left and let it fly. The potential game-winning 3-pointer hit off the front of the rim.
Bozeman’s only chance left was to foul. The Wolfpack sealed the 65-61 win Friday via two free throws. The Hawks lost their lead for good that was as large as 12 points in the second quarter.
“It was intense,” said Carter Ash, who scored a game-high 24 points. “Our defense just needs to pick up. I think everyone was just kind of playing frantically. We need to play more calm.”
Defending Class AA champion Bozeman (1-2) has now opened the season with two losses in its first three games. Friday’s contest featured the best of what the Hawks could offer in the first eight minutes and a faltering in the final handful.
They were outrebounded 37-27, gave up 15 second-chance points and allowed Glacier to make 3 of 3 field goals and 7 of 11 free throws in overtime.
Despite the madness of the Wolfpack’s comeback, which featured 11 offensive rebounds and seven lead changes, Bozeman had chances to win both at the end of the fourth quarter and overtime. Shots just didn’t go in.
“You got to put yourself in position to have those opportunities, which we did,” Holmquist said. “I’ll take those shots that we got any time.”
At this point in the year, Friday’s outcome served as a model for the Hawks of what to avoid. Being unable to make stops, and finish those stops with rebounds, is at the top of their list. Glacier opened overtime with scores on three straight possessions.
Despite Ash hitting a 3 from mere feet closer than halfcourt and Hudson Willett converting a pull-up mid-range jumper, it was the Wolfpack that kept finding a way instead of Bozeman.
As the Hawks tracked back on defense trailing by three, Holmquist clenched both fists and his side and belted out, “Get a stop.” Glacier answered with a 3-pointer to separate by that many.
“Teams are going to go on runs,” Holmquist said, “but we got to find a way to stop the bleeding instead of letting it just keep going.”
Bozeman’s execution in the second half was a contrast from the first. The Hawks set the tempo at the start, closing the opening quarter on a 13-1 run and looking like the state title caliber team it was a year ago during that stretch. The Hawks defended closely, rebounded ferociously and capitalized on the other end.
Glacier made just 35% of its shots in the opening half, and though the Wolfpack came as close as six points, it never fully erased the gap.
“I was pleased with a lot of things,” Holmquist said. “We got to just kind of clean up some things right now, but I think they’re all fixable.”
After halftime, Bozeman was outscored by five points in the third quarter, four in the fourth and four in overtime.
Following a 47-47 tie late in regulation, Willett and Ash each made two free throws. The Hawks led by four with 28 seconds remaining.
But just like they did all game, the Wolfpack responded. Drew Engellant drove under the hoop, made a layup and drew a foul. Engellant missed the ensuing free throw and Glacier drew another foul going for the offensive board.
Bozeman’s student section chanted its disagreement. Jaxon Olsen went to the free-throw line and tied the game.
Coming out of the timeout with 10 seconds left in the fourth, the Hawks told each other, “Let’s get it back.” Ash’s fadeaway jumper at the buzzer missed out. To overtime they went.
The hot start to the extra period put the Wolfpack up five. They nearly cruised to the finish. But Lang drove to the basket, hit the layup and drew a foul. He nodded confidently while staring at his teammates on the bench and walking to the line. He missed the free throw, but Bozeman fought for the rebound and gained the ball via possession arrow.
Ash missed a 3 and Glacier pushed its lead back to five. But the Hawks answered similarly when Jackson Coles hit a layup and this time made the free throw afterward. Down by two, Bozeman needed the stop it got. The Hawks just needed to find a way, like Holmquist said, and make one more basket.
They were a shot away, multiple times, from winning.
“We don’t have to be great in December,” Holmquist said. “We’re not near as good as we’re going to be.”