Braden Ray liked to think he and his Billings teammates displayed their smarts as much as anything else in the Wildcats’ season-opening 66-49 triumph at Chadwick on Tuesday.
Billings, for the most part, breezed through the Cardinals’ full-court pressure. The Wildcats never trailed.
Ray and his cohorts are well-reputed for their gym-rat nature and it’s obvious they’ve paid attention and learned lessons during their countless hours on the court.
“We worked our butts off for this and it showed out here,” Ray said. “We try to prepare ourselves as much as we can. We have a good IQ. We know where our teammates are supposed to be, what our strengths are and we try to embrace that.
“I think our high IQ comes from our experience," he added. "We’ve played so many games together and have been on so many travel teams. Also, we know how to listen.”
Billings jumped on top of Chadwick 20-2 by executing on all fronts offensively. It would have been hard for the Wildcats to keep up that pace all night and their shooting legs indeed weakened. But their passing continued to set them up for good looks for four quarters.
Colton Plowman netted 14 points, Hayden Fender and Jacob Henry each scored 12, Ray had 10 and Kyler Tennis nine. Henry was 6-of-9 from the field.
Billings totaled 18 assists, to go along with 11 steals opposite 13 turnovers.
“When we’re coming down the floor, we know who is going to be open at a certain time, we know when someone is going to set a screen and where the ball is going to,” Fender said.
Billings’ backcourt doesn’t feature an appointed point guard, but rather four or five guards capable of filling in at the point
“I think we have enough guards who can handle the ball that we don’t need a set point guard,” said Ray, who dished out five assists and had just one turnover.
The 6-foot-7 Fender was plagued by foul trouble most of the game. He got in on the fun by scoring eight of his 12 points in the third quarter, before being whistled for his fourth foul with 2:22 to play in the third quarter.
Almost predictably, Fender drew the refs’ attention with even the slightest moves he made, while towering over other players in the paint.
“Sometimes, it’s tough not to draw fouls,” said Fender, who had seven rebounds. “Once you get two or three fouls on you, you’ve got to play back a little bit and not do as much as you were. You’ve got to be fundamental and roll with the punches. The ref is going to do what he’s going to and he’s always going to be right.
“It felt good putting up points for the team in the third quarter," he added. "I’m a big team player. I don’t care if I’m out there scoring 50 points or I have 30 assists. I’d rather have the 30 assists.”
Chadwick put up 92 points against Billings last season, but never found a flow offensively this time around.
“We knew they were a good team coming in and we had to do a lot of things right and we didn’t,” Cardinals coach Shawn Guerin said. “We didn’t make shots and they did. Their zone is pretty good. I thought they would run a little more man against us and we hoped they would.”
Chadwick was able to overcome a 13-point, first-quarter deficit in its 67-63 win at Seymour last week. The Cardinals never got closer than seven points of Billings after the first quarter.
“Our first quarter right now is killing us,” Guerin said. “We dug a hole at Seymour and were able to overcome it. We weren’t able to overcome this one.”
Trent Nalley poured in a game-high 25 points. He had 14 in the second quarter.
Fender is trying to convince the rest of the Wildcats to join him by not shaving until Billings loses. Thus far, Fender is the only one showing any semblance of a beard, mustache or even five o’clock shadow.
“I guess I’ll take part in it,” Ray said. “It’s something we can all share in and laugh about.”
“I hope we can get that going,” Fender said. “But it’s going to be hard for some of them. I haven’t seen anyone with full facial hair, yet. I think they can only get straggles and patches.”
BILLINGS (66) — Henry 6 0-2 12, Plowman 4 4-8 14, Bradley 1 0-2 2, Ray 4 1-3 10, Tennis 4 1-3 9, Fender 5 2-2 12, Moody 3 0-0 7. Totals 27 8-20 66,
CHADWICK (49) — Rozell 1 0-0 2, Stevens 0 0-1 0, Rains 3 1-3 8, Gilbert 1 0-0 2, Nalley 8 3-4 25, Cunningham 4 2-5 10, Vanhouden 2 0-2 4. Totals 19 6-15 49.
Billings 20 18 9 19 - 66
Chadwick 8 16 10 15 - 49
3-point goals - Nalley 4, Plowman 2, Rains, Ray, Moody.