With Spokane trying to keep alive its hopes of sharing the SWCL championship, senior guards Sam Shuman and Grant Stewart were scoreless at halftime versus Billings on Friday.
Worse yet, Shuman and Stewart had played a big part in the Owls committing 10 first-half turnovers.
“I’m not going to lie, I was in my head a lot at halftime,” Shuman said. “All that pressure, I was getting double-teamed. I told myself I had to come out with more confidence and set up our offense — bring the ball up and don’t turn the ball over. I had my teammates building me up. With coach (Terry) Writer coming in this year, we’ve built a culture in which everyone surrounds each other as family.”
After their teammates built up their confidence, Shuman and Stewart set them up for success as Spokane broke away from Billings for a 71-63 triumph.
The Owls (17-7 overall and 4-0 in the SWCL) can clinch a share of the conference championship with Crane (16-5 and 3-0) by getting past Purdy (14-5 and 2-1) on Saturday.
Spokane beat Billings by cutting its turnover total in half in the second half. Of the Owls’ five giveaways in the second half, Shuman and Stewart were directly responsible for just two.
“Being out for so many snow days, everyone was trying to get back in a groove,” Shuman said. “I had to get my hands warmed up.”
“I felt like in the first half things were a little choppy,” Stewart said. “But in the second half we got into a flow.”
Stewart pointed out that Spokane’s turnovers early on were turning into Billings points.
“It was very important for us to cut down on the turnovers because it took away from their offense,” Stewart said. “Their main offense was points off of our turnovers. When we could slow down the game and not turn the ball over, we were in such a better position to beat them.”
Shuman and Stewart also contributed by combining for 13 points in the second half.
Writer said given their cross country background, it figured that Shuman and Stewart would stay strong rather than wear down.
“They can run forever. They’ve got great stamina,” Writer said. “We have to have them out there. They’re our best ball-handlers. They’re the keys to our team.
“They always give such a good effort. They may make mistakes, but it’s never because of lack of effort,” he added. “They want to win, that’s the main thing. They’re the kind of kids you want. You can build around kids like them.”
Spokane’s improved passing was on display in half-court sets and particularly on fast breaks. The Owls repeatedly fired the ball to Daniel Newell after he broke early on the defensive end. Ahead of the pack, he raced downcourt for layups.
Newell scored a game-high 21 points.
“He’s a leaker. He leaks out and goes and is good at finishing on the move,” Writer said. “We got some easy buckets here and there that helped a lot.”
Not much of anything else for either side came easy.
The officials tightened their leash on the players in the second half. Spokane was whistled for 23 fouls, with 13 coming in the second half. Billings was called for 22 fouls, with 15 occurring in the second half.
“There were a lot of fouls and there were also a lot of fouls that weren’t called,” Stewart said. “It was tough pressure. But that’s what you get from SWCL guards.”
Two of the best centers in the SWCL spent much of the second half as spectators.
Spokane post man J.D. Tate finished with four fouls and 19 points. Tate flourished without fouling early on. He scored 17 points in the first half before his counterpart, Billings center Hayden Fender, got on the scoreboard. In addition, Tate drew eight fouls on the Wildcats over the course of the game. But in the second half, he was mired in foul trouble.
Fender was in foul trouble from the get-go and fouled out with eight points.
It didn’t help the Wildcats’ cause that in the second half they inexplicably drew a whistle twice for a three-second violation and once for carrying the ball. Many teams haven’t been whistled for either of those long-forgotten calls the entire season.
Colton Plowman and Jacob Henry teamed for 27 points to lead the Wildcats. Kyler Tennis, an All-SWCL First-Team selection last season, never got on track and managed just 11 points.
Billings (15-6 and 2-1) concludes its regular-season slate with a trip to Chadwick on Saturday.
Once the Wildcats put Spokane in the bonus in the final minute of the third quarter, the Owls proceeded to make 12-of-16 free throws. Newell was 7-for-7 at the foul line.
Brayden Pryer provided a lift for the winners and wowed the home crowd by coming off Spokane’s bench to score seven points.
The Owls are thrilled to be in position to earn a share of the SWCL title.
“We came out with a bigger chip on our shoulders this season than anybody,” Stewart said. “When we lost our two best players and coach (in the off-season), no one thought we were going to have success. We came out to prove people wrong.”
“I don’t think anyone had confidence in us,” Shuman said. “That made us work harder and believe in each other even more.”
Spokane 71, Billings 63
BILLINGS (63) — Henry 4 3-4 13, Newkirk 2 3-5 7, Plowman 6 1-1 14, Davis 1 2-2 4, Tennis 4 3-9 11, Moody 2 2-2 6, Fender 4 0-0 8. Totals 23 14-23 63.
SPOKANE (71) — Shuman 2 3-4 8, Stewart 1 3-4 5, McCoy 4 0-1 9, Pryer 2 3-4 7, Wiggins 1 0-2 2, Newell 7 7-7 21, Tate 8 3-5 19. Totals 25 19-27 71.
Billings 13 23 10 17 - 63
Spokane 16 21 18 16 - 71
3-point goals - Henry 2, Plowman, Shuman, McCoy.