BIG HORN — Midway through the third quarter, Kade Eisele attempted a 3-pointer from the right wing. It looked way off, but instead banked in off the backboard. It was that sort of night for Eisele and the Big Horn offense. The Rams shot the ball extremely well and got a game-high 28 points from Eisele, soundly defeating Tongue River 72-55.
The Rams’ victory split the season series between the teams. Big Horn maintained its conference lead and now stands at 6-1, having won five in a row. The Eagles fell to 3-4 with their third consecutive loss.
Eisele was on fire in the first quarter, scoring 15 points and three 3-pointers. He kept it up in the second quarter, draining two 3s. It was a fast-paced, energetic and well-played half, with Big Horn taking a 36-30 lead into the break.
Big Horn head coach Ryan Alley said the Tongue River zone defense made it tough to get the ball inside, but the Rams made decisive, crisp passes and hit open looks from behind the arc.
Kade VanDyken took over in the second half, scoring eight points in both quarters.
He scored repeatedly near the basket, several times as a result of offensive rebounds, of which he had six. Like the first matchup between the teams, Big Horn dominated the offensive glass, corralling 14 of its own misses compared to one for Tongue River.
The Rams’ pressure defense also steadily wore down the Eagles, who played a little out of control and forced a few shots.
Tongue River head coach Ronnie Stewart said the team’s second-half performance was both frustrating and disappointing.
“We just keep getting in our own way,” Stewart said. “Too often, we try to do too much on our own, rather than follow team basketball, and that’s the real frustrating part.”
Carson Bates played strong pressure defense on Tongue River star guard Jay Keo, making him work to start the offense and forcing a few turnovers that Big Horn converted into baskets. Keo looked worn out by the end of the game but still made several acrobatic finishes around the rim, ending with a team-high 18 points.
After giving up 54 combined points to Keo and Jaren Fritz in the first matchup, the Big Horn defense improved Friday, allowing 33 points to the two players. In the second half especially, Tongue River couldn’t get into an offensive rhythm, scoring most of their points after quickly breaking the Big Horn press.
The Rams had a 13-point lead after three quarters and executed almost perfectly on offense in the fourth quarter. Big Horn stayed patient and iced the game away with excellent high post-low post passing, setting each other up for easy shots.
Alley is happy with the team’s record and offensive improvement but said there are still plenty of areas to work on, particularly half-court defense.
Stewart said the team’s weak-side defense and defensive rebounding needs to improve.
“The things we’re working on in practice, we’re not taking over to the games,” Stewart said. “I don’t know if that’s a maturity thing, a coaching thing. Could be all of the above, but we have to do a better job.”
Big Horn travels Saturday to Wright, while Tongue River hosts Moorcroft in its final home game of the season. Both games begin at 4 p.m.
Tongue River…19 11 10 15 — 55
Big Horn……..23 13 17 19 — 72
Tongue River — Keo 18, Fritz 15, H. Patterson 7, Rees 4, Reish 4, Summers 4, McCafferty 3
Big Horn — Eisele 28, VanDyken 22, Parker 8, Morton 7, Pelissier 4, Bates 2, Phillips 2, McCafferty 1