Things were looking bleak for the Bulldogs with 14 seconds to go versus Libby on Friday.
Following the go-ahead free throw by Loggers’ sharpshooter Ryggs Johnston, Lee Walburn brought the ball up the court with Whitefish down 47-46. Walburn looked for a high screen at the left elbow and was swarmed by Libby defenders.
Just when the game looked over, however, Walburn escaped the chaos, dribbled back out and nailed a three from the right wing at the buzzer, stunning the Loggers and capturing the Dogs’ fourth straight win to start the season.
“We knew we didn’t have any timeouts, so we knew we just had to get up the floor and try and get the last shot,” Walburn said. “We were trying to do a high ball screen but nothing happened, then the ball got tipped.”
“I knew it was going in, it was that feeling,” he added.
In the first half Libby opened a 10-point lead, which Whitefish cut down to five in the third before finishing the quarter down 38-31.
The Dogs outscored Libby 18 to 9 in the final period.
Walburn led all scorers with 18, while Dillon Botner added 15. Johnston led Libby scorers with 16.
Head coach Scott Smith said he was happy with the end, but frustrated with the means.
Leading up to Walburn’s buzzer-beater, the Dogs led by one point with a minute left in the game, but turned the ball over with an offensive foul on a moving screen and then threw the ball away on an inbounds play that led to layup that gave the Loggers the lead.
“We can’t turn the ball over, we get a one-point lead and we can’t turn the ball over. I’ll give Lee some credit of making that big shot at the end, but we put ourselves in that situation, and we never should’ve been there to begin with,” Smith said.
“The bottom line is we got lucky at the end and Lee hit a big shot. We’re thankful that he did, but at the end of the game we need to be able to execute better down the stretch if we want to win games.”
Smith also praised the defensive play of Jack Schwaiger, who was in charge of keeping Johnston in check.
“Jack Schwaiger had an amazing game defensively, honestly he’s the reason we won,” Smith said. “He held Johnston to 16 points, and if it wasn’t for his effort we wouldn’t have won that game.”
After the game, Walburn said a lot of hard work has gone into the Bulldogs’ 4-0 start.
“It’s amazing. It’s all thanks to Coach Smith and the intensity in practice and putting us through the work,” he said. “It’s been hard, but the payoff is unbelievable.”
The Dogs’ hot streak came to an end the following day in Browning, however.
A strong third quarter pushed the Indians over Whitefish for the 63-50 win, despite the Dogs outscoring their opponent by nine in the fourth.
Walburn led all scorers with 21 and Botner scored 11.
Smith said the Indians’ full court press got to his team, and some offensive impatience played right into their opponents fast-paced gameplan.
This week Whitefish will look to get back on track against Frenchtown on Friday. That game will be home, starting at 7:15 p.m. at Whitefish High School.
Smith said his team will need to up the intensity moving forward.
“We’re not there yet defensively. You’ve gotta have five kids on the floor playing with intensity,” he said. “We’ve got a tough game coming up with Frenchtown, they’ve got a couple of really tough shooters coming in. They’re kind of like [Johnston], they’ll hit from anywhere on them floor, so if we’re not ready for that we could find ourselves in trouble.”
Libby 10 20 8 9 – 47
Whitefish 10 10 11 18 – 49
LIBBY: JJ Davis 7, Ryan Goodman 8, Ryggs Johnston 16, Jay Beagle 3, Tim Goodman 1, Keith Johnson 8, Kevin Barnes 4.
WHITEFISH: Jayce Cripe 3, Jack Schwaiger 2, Mark Anderson 4, Sam Menicke 1, Ryan Kemm 6, Lee Walburn 18, Dillon Botner 15.
Whitefish 17 6 8 19 – 50
Browning 14 18 21 10 – 63
WHITEFISH: Lee Walburn 21, Dillon Botner 11, Mark Anderson 7, Sam Menicke 5, Justin Conklin 3, Ryan Kemm 2, Jace Cripe 1.
BROWNING: Tyree Whitcomb 20, Justin Bird 13, Riley Spoon Hunter 7, Ethan Running Crane 7, Deion Mad Plume 6, Trevon Fisher 2, Derek Sharp 2, Brant Bremner 2, CJ Smith 2, John Deroche 1, Latrell Bull Child 1.