The drought is over: FHS boys’ basketball team heads for state tournament

Jaden Graham (right) pushes the ball up the court against a Sidney defender. Graham had a solid game in the Golden Eagles’ win over the Sidney Eagles on Saturday morning at Rocky Mountain College. The win gave FHS a berth in the upcoming state tournament this weekend in Bozeman.

Photo by Doreen Heintz

For the first time in 16 years, the Fergus boys’ basketball team is heading to the Class A State Boys’ Basketball Tournament. After falling to Belgrade, 41-33, in a semi-final game on Friday at the Metra in Billings, the Golden Eagles came back on Saturday morning to defeat Sidney, 59-34, for the second time in the Eastern A Divisional tournament. Saturday’s game was played at Rocky Mountain College. The change of venue for Fergus seemed to be just what the doctor ordered. The atmosphere at Rocky was similar to what the young Golden Eagle team was used to at the FHS Fieldhouse – loud.

“I was really proud of how hard the boys came out playing Saturday morning against Sidney,” said Fergus Coach Scott Sparks. “We made a few adjustments prior to the start of the game to attack their zone. We stressed getting out in our press and getting the tempo to go our way.”

The win over Sidney vaulted the Golden Eagles into the consolation game against Billings Central.

“We went into the Billings Central game so relaxed,” said Sparks. “They wanted a trophy and got it done against a really good team.

“Cody (Henderson) had a really good game,” added Sparks. “Landon (Henderson) gave us some big minutes. It was just a great team effort.”

“It has been a long time since a Fergus boys’ team has gone to state,” said Landon Henderson after the win over Billings Central. “It is kind of cool that we are the first team to go since 2002.”

“It feels really great,” said Cody Henderson, who also was celebrating his 18th birthday on Saturday. “We will just see what happens this week. Every team going into the state tournament is 0-0. I think we have some confidence going in.”

Graham has strong

offensive game against Sidney

Jaden Graham hit the first 5 points of the game for Fergus. The Fergus pressure defense was also causing Sidney to turn the ball over. After a layup by Jake Clinton gave the Golden Eagles a 7-0 lead, the Sidney coach called his second time out of the contest with 3:40 left in the first quarter.

Sidney’s Bridger Larson quieted the Fergus crowd momentarily when he scored on a field goal and a free throw. Tanner Trafton scored on back-to-back buckets to put the Golden Eagles up 11-3. When the buzzer for the first quarter ended, Fergus led, 16-3.

Larson hit the first score in the second quarter, but Fergus continued its assault on the offensive end of the court. At halftime, Fergus led, 24-11.

“Jaden stepped up and had a huge game for us offensively, and the rest of the crew set the tone defensively and on the boards,” said Sparks.

Graham had 10 of his team high 22 points in the first half. Graham and Trafton had five boards apiece in the first half, while Clinton added four.

The onslaught continued in the second half, although Sidney was able to stay close to the Golden Eagles early in the third period. Back-to-back 3-point baskets at the end of the quarter by Clinton and Wes Jameson gave the Golden Eagles a 43-26 lead heading into the final eight minutes of the game.

The Fergus defense held Sidney to only 8 points over the final eight minutes of the game. Late in the fourth quarter, Graham hit a field goal to give Fergus a 56-34 lead. Shortly after, Coach Sparks emptied his bench as Fergus won over Sidney, 59-34.

“They responded exactly how we hoped, and after the game, you could see a huge weight was lifted off their shoulders,” said Sparks.

Graham just missed a triple double, finishing the game with 22 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Clinton and Trafton joined Graham in double figures with 13 and 11 points, respectively. Clinton led Fergus in rebounds with 10, while Graham’s seven assists led Fergus. As a team, the Golden Eagles converted 15 of 20 from the free-throw line, including 8 of 10 by Graham.

Sparks was pleased with his team’s defensive effort all weekend.

“We finished number one in the state in points allowed defensively during the regular season, at just over 42 points per game,” Sparks said. “During the tournament we held teams to an average under 40. That type of effort gives you a chance to win every night.”

Bring home divisional third-place trophy

The Golden Eagles got off to another quick start against Billings Central. Field goals by Graham and Clinton put Fergus up 4-0 against the Rams in the opening minutes of the first quarter. The Golden Eagles continued to lead throughout the first quarter, although Billings Central kept it close by applying man-to-man full court pressure on the defense. The first quarter ended with Fergus up by just 1 point, 9-8.

The Rams took their only lead of the game in the opening minute of the second period, 10-9. Then it was all Golden Eagles. Three-point buckets by Trafton and Jameson upped the Fergus lead to 15-10. A 3-pointer by Cody Henderson gave Fergus an 18-13 lead. With 2:49 until halftime, the Rams took a timeout to try to slow down the Golden Eagle attack, but a field goal by Jameson and another three by Graham upped Fergus’s lead to 27-13. By halftime, Fergus led, 32-16.

Graham opened the second half with another three before the Rams began to cut into the Golden Eagle lead. With less than two minutes left in the third quarter, Billings Central had reduced the Fergus lead to 40-30. The third quarter ended with Fergus up, 43-30.

At one point in the fourth quarter, the Fergus lead was cut to 45-40, but a Trafton field goal put the Golden Eagles up by 7 points. A Jameson field goal upped the lead to 9 points. Fergus upped its advantage to 52-40 with under two minutes left in the contest. The final field goal of the contest for the Golden Eagles was scored by Jameson on a layup with 1:15 left in the contest. Billings Central hit a three with 26 seconds left on the clock, but Fergus held on to win, 55-46.

“Ultimately we accomplished one of our goals, which was to get to the state tournament,” said Sparks “Once you are there anything can happen. There isn’t much separation between the eight teams that are there.

“We’ve got a great team that has won 18 games and played toe-to-toe with some of the best teams in the state,” added Sparks. “The boys wouldn’t be intimidated at all. We’ve got one goal left, and that’s to win it all. I know the boys will be ready to roll on Thursday.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve had a boys’ team at state, but to our guys they aren’t surprised that we made it. They expected to make it. Now we have to come out relaxed, build off our effort on Saturday and make a run in Bozeman.”

Fergus plays Frenchtown in opening round at

state

Fergus meets Frenchtown in an opening round game at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday. All of the first-round games have been moved up because the Bobcat men have a home game on Thursday evening.

“Frenchtown has a great point guard in Cade Baker, who can flat out score and distribute,” said Sparks about the Broncs. “Alan Botkin is a 6-4 kid who can score inside and out and is athletic. They are younger, like us, playing four sophomores and two juniors in their top eight. It’s their first time at the state tournament as well. They like to play fast and are extremely athletic. It’s almost a perfect matchup in terms of how both teams are built and want to play. It should be a great game.”

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