DAYTON — When the Big Horn Lady Rams and Tongue River Lady Eagles first met on Jan. 21, it was all Big Horn for 32 minutes. Big Horn jumped to a 12-2 lead, and the end result was a 47-17 lopsided victory.
Friday’s rematch wasn’t quite as easy.
The Lady Rams held on for a 42-27 win, but it took a late push to pull away from the much feistier Lady Eagles.
“We knew that they were playing a little different style, pressing a little more than they had in the past,” Big Horn head coach Michael McGuire said of the cross-county rival. “They’ve really improved a lot over the last couple weeks. We had no expectations that this game would go like the first one at all.”
Tongue River’s new style — uptempo and pressure defensively — made it easier for the Lady Eagles to trade punches with the Lady Rams. Big Horn also pressed full-court, but Tongue River utilized quick passes and fast dribbling to break through the traps.
After Big Horn jumped to an 8-4 lead, Tongue River threw three quick passes with the ball barely touching the floor, scored a layup and showed the Lady Rams that another win wasn’t going to come as easily.
“We play better when we’re playing fast,” Tongue River head coach Tyler Hanson said. “Lately we’ve been coming out, we’ve been pressing, and it gets us in the right mindset right from the tipoff, the kind of intensity I want.”
When the fast-paced play and pressure defense worked, it worked well for Tongue River. The downfall, though, was that when the tempo got too fast, the results were costly.
Big Horn didn’t hit a single 3-pointer in the game. Shots weren’t falling, but the lack of 3s was more due to the abundance of 2s.
The Lady Rams stole pass after pass, most of which led to easy layups or fouls. Big Horn got to the free-throw line 28 times Friday night.
Those easy transition baskets disallowed Tongue River from ever truly cutting into the Big Horn lead.
“That’s been the theme all year; when we take care of the ball, we’re a pretty darn good basketball team,” Hanson said. “When we don’t, it tends to hurt us. We’ve just got to make them earn their points more instead of just giving them to them.”
“Defense and rebounding travel everywhere,” McGuire said. “No matter what gym you’re in, you should be able to play great defense. If you have a night where shots aren’t falling, then that end of the floor will have to carry you.”
As Big Horn continued to score off easy transition buckets and take a 20-12 halftime lead, Tongue River responded better than in the previous contest. The Lady Eagles held Big Horn to just 9 third-quarter points and cut it at one point to 26-20.
A Kylee Knobloch layup at the one-minute mark had the Tongue River High School gym at its loudest.
But the response to Tongue River’s third-quarter run was very different for the two sides and ultimately the difference-maker in Friday night’s show.
Early in the fourth quarter, Big Horn forced four straight turnovers, three of which came in the backcourt and led to either layups or free throws. Another bad pass at halfcourt led to another Big Horn layup and a 15-point Lady Rams lead.
“That’s where we’ve seen the most growth,” McGuire said. “To take the other team’s best shot at times and be able to respond and still be able to get wins. We’ve really learned to be a much mentally tougher team.”
The Lady Eagles again cut it to 12 and forced a jump ball and regained possession, but another turnover on the ensuing possession required desperation fouls and ended in the team’s fifth conference loss.
“We went on that run because we got a couple turnovers and turned them into points,” Stewart said of Tongue River’s third-quarter push. “And then they went back on their little run because we turned the ball over.”
The Lady Rams (15-2, 7-0 in 2A Northeast) host Wright Friday, while Tongue River (6-11, 2-5) travels to Moorcroft.
Big Horn High School……….12 8 9 14 — 43
Tongue River High School……6 6 8 7 — 27
Big Horn — E. Blaney 14, Buckingham 8, B. Hutton 5, Cook 5, Schmidt 4, A. Hutton 2, M. Blaney 1
Tongue River — Knobloch 8, Dygon 6, Kobza 5, Keller 4, Heimbaugh 3, Carroll 1