HELENA — The Helena boys basketball team pulled away from Butte in the fourth quarter of a non-conference Class AA clash to win its season opener, 64-50, on Tuesday.
The Bengals and Bulldogs were tied at 39 entering the fourth quarter, but Helena opened with 12 consecutive points to take firm control of the game. Helena held Butte scoreless until the 4:40 mark and without a field goal until a Trevyn Roth triple with 1:43 to play.
“The big thing was that we emphasized defense,” Helena head coach Brandon Day said. “Butte is a skilled basketball team, especially from behind the arc. The boys stepped up to the challenge and took care of business (Tuesday).”
Alex Johnson was big in the run, picking up a pair of steals and scoring six quick points, but it was the play of Grady Koenig that got Helena going.
Helena led for the majority of the game but was struggling late in the third quarter. Koenig got a steal on the defensive end and converted an and-one opportunity on the other to jump-start the Helena offense. Koenig’s energy was contagious, as another bucket to open the fourth quarter lit a fire in his Bengal teammates.
“(Koenig’s) biggest thing is that he brings a lot of energy. He’s upbeat, he’s in-your-face. His defense is outstanding,” Day said of the senior.
Butte trailed by six at halftime, but the Bulldogs took the lead midway through the third quarter. Clay Ferguson hit a pair of tough mid-range shots and sent a defender sprawling with a crossover before Roth buried a buzzer beater to tie things entering the fourth quarter. But the offense sputtered, as Koenig and company’s ball pressure flustered the Bulldogs.
Koenig, a star running back for Helena on the football field, is embracing his role for the Bengals basketball team.
“Energy right off the bat,” Koenig said of his role. “When the guys need a lift, need a blow, I come in, try to get them back going, get us in the right direction if we’re in a lull. If you get a good stop on defense, it’s going to turn into offense.”
Now 1-0, Helena is looking to build on last year’s late-season success. The Bengals entered the Western AA divisional tournament as the No. 6 seed but finished third to earn a berth at the state tournament.
“It was huge for us, mostly for our summer,” Day said. “It got the guys more interested in putting time in in the summer time. Hopefully now we just go a game at a time.”