MISSOULA — Maybe it was Montana coach Travis DeCuire's presence or perhaps just a case of early-season jitters.
Whatever it was, the Missoula Hellgate and Bozeman boys' basketball teams had a hard time targeting the hoop for three quarters Friday night. The Hawks finally found their shooting stroke when it mattered most, soaring to a 59-46 win in front of a large and mostly-disappointed crowd at the Knights' gym.
The match-up of 2-0 teams held plenty of allure for Treasure Staters. Both teams have Grizzly recruits, with 6-foot-9 senior Mack Anderson manning the middle for the Hawks and 6-foot-3 sophomore Rollie Worster leading Hellgate.
Worster showed off his scoring prowess with DeCuire sitting in the third row, tallying a game-high 23 points with 6-for-17 shooting. But Anderson and his team had the last laugh, using 7-for-10 shooting in the fourth quarter to overcome a 35-34 deficit at the end of the third.
"If I had the answer we could bottle that up and make sure we don't do that again," joked Bozeman coach Wes Holmquist of his team's 11-for-31 shooting in the first three frames. "I think a lot of it is those are two good athletic teams and especially early in the year a lot of teams are just pressing to try to go get one every once in a while.
"When we get stops and get out on transition our offense is going to take care of itself. We started to do that in the fourth quarter and it finally started clicking. Things started opening up."
Hellgate (2-1) did a masterful job containing Anderson for three quarters. Nothing came easy for the big guy and he fell into a funk at the foul line, missing his first eight attempts.
To his credit, Anderson snapped out of it, scoring 11 of his 15 points in the final 15 minutes.
"It was tough playing here but we figured it out in the fourth quarter and turned it up," he said. "They have that match-up zone that was kind of throwing us off and at halftime Coach drew up a couple sets and that helped us get in a rhythm."
Anderson, whose team earned State AA runner-up honors the last two seasons, admitted that playing in front of DeCuire in December is not the same as playing in front of him in summer leagues.
"It's a little bit different just knowing I'll be playing for him next year and all the guys are here," he said, alluding to the fact several UM players were in attendance, including Ahmaad Rorie. "But it's definitely fun. I was excited to play against Rollie (Worster).
"It was a good game for us to play because they're kind of similar to us in how they play — long and athletic. They're definitely a good team."
The key point came early in the fourth quarter when, with the score tied at 37-37, the Hawks went on a 7-0 run. Anderson hit a couple free throws and senior teammate Latrell McCutcheon swished a triple.
Hellgate temporarily lost its focus offensively. The team finished 2 for 9 shooting from the floor in the fourth quarter.
"We did a lot of good things — tie ball game with 7 minutes left," Knights coach Jeff Hays said. "We showed a lack of poise that they displayed when they were down 8 (with 5 minutes left in the third quarter).
"They were still tough-minded, still continued to do what they wanted to do. I'm not going to fault our guys because it's the competitive nature of them that I'm going to go make a play. We need to learn to wait another two, three, four seconds. One or two more reversals. But sometimes you've got to experience it, watch it and then continue to learn and get better from it. I still like my team."