Friday night’s matchup between New Covenant and Billings was anticipated as a high-scoring, up-and-down clash.
The two teams were more than willing to live up to those expectations.
In a game similar to their high-scoring district classic two seasons ago, it was Billings emerging with an 88-75 home victory. Senior Brady Chastain scored a game-high 30 and teammate Austin Essick added 29 points as Billings improved to 11-1.
“We knew it was going to be a track meet,” said Warriors coach Mike Foley. “You score 75 points, you play some good defense and you don’t turn it over a lot, you figure you’d win some ball games. But, Billings is a great team.”
In a 2011 first-round district game, No. 8 seed New Covenant shocked top seed Billings 100-99 in double overtime. Fast forward two years, and many of those players are still around.
“New Covenant never gets the credit they deserve,” said Billings coach Kendall Tilley. “Of course, they beat us two years ago in districts and they still have the same athletes we have. They were sophomores when our guys were sophomores and they’re all seniors now. We just had to see who could play better defense at the end and take care of the ball, and fortunately our guys did a little bit better job of that tonight.”
The lead changed hands throughout the first three quarters, but Billings used a big run in the fourth quarter to go ahead for good. Austin Essick’s 3-pointer put the Wildcats in front 78-68 with 4:16 remaining.
“They’re defending state champs and they’ve got a little more… basketball competence than we do. And they showed it,” Foley said. “They got on a 10-point run there in the second half and they didn’t let us have (the lead) back. That was the difference.”
New Covenant’s Austin Cassity, back from an MCL injury and playing in his first basketball game since last June, hit a 3-pointer that cut Billings’ lead to 78-71. But the Wildcats got a jumper from Steven Driscoll and a trey from Dawson Meyer to go back up by 10 points with less than two minutes remaining.
Tilley said Billings switched to a triangle-and-2 zone late in the game to slow down New Covenant guards Chace Smartt (22 points) and Jarred Schrader (13 points).
“We probably could’ve just went straight man and been just as well off,” Tilley said. “But we stayed out of foul trouble and let our other guys pack it in, and closed out the other shooters when they were out there. We left a couple of guys open and they’re going to hit some, but as long as the other guys aren’t continually hitting the shots they’ve been hitting, I’ll take our chances with that.”
Chastain had 19 of his 30 points in the first half, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer that put Billings ahead 47-44 at halftime.
“We start shooting more of those 3 than we probably needed to,” Tilley said. “We told Brady and Austin to take it to the basket a little more, get into the bonus as quickly as we could, and quit settling for 3s. We like to shoot ‘em, but at the same time we’re quick enough to get by anybody and we jump well enough inside that we can get in there and get some shots when we need to.”
Billings hosts Exeter on Tuesday night.
New Covenant fell to 4-5 with the loss. The Warriors, who will play a total of 14 games in January, travel to Bradleyville on Monday night.
Billings 88, NCA 75
New Covenant 22 22 16 15 --- 75
Billings 28 19 19 22 --- 88
New Covenant – Chace Smartt 22, Jarred Schrader 13, Sam Lincoln 13, Austin Cassity 13, Corey Weimer 12, Josh James 2
Billings – Brady Chastain 30, Austin Essick 29, Dawson Meyer 14, Chad Yeokum 12, Steven Driscoll 3
Billings B 67, New Covenant B 29