The Wildcats erased a nine-point first-quarter deficit to open their season with a win at home Saturday as they downed the Stevensville Yellowjackets 58-50.
Led by Dillon Shipp’s 18 points, the Wildcats survived shooting 15-37 from the free-throw line in the contest, including missing 11 foul shots in the fourth quarter.
“I was happy that we won, but I wasn’t really pleased with our execution,” head coach Chris Finberg said. “We had some first-game jitters and did not shoot the ball well. We also had too many turnovers in the first quarter. From the second quarter on, I thought we played fairly well, though, not counting our free throw percentage.”
The Wildcats were also 3-16 from beyond the three-point line in the contest and 20-51 overall, but Finberg is confident the team will find its shooting touch.
“We have some good shooters on this team and I think we will be fine as the year goes on, it’s just a matter of being confident and not putting to much pressure on ourselves,” he said. “We just need to focus on getting better on what we want to do.”
Shipp had six of the Wildcats’ eight points in the opening quarter, but the Yellowjackets went up by as many as nine before taking a 15-8 lead into the second quarter.
Shipp, Sam Hovde and Logan Bechtel each scored in the opening moments of the second quarter as Columbia Falls used a 6-0 run to cut the Yellowjackets lead to one, but Stevensville answered with five straight points to push their lead to 20-15.
Drew Morgan and Dillon Wanner both scored to help the Cats tie the game at 21 before a Bechtel three late in the half gave Columbia Falls a 25-23 lead at the break.
Morgan scored on a cut to the basket to open the second half and Shipp added a three moments later to put the Cats up by six but the Yellowjackets rallied to cut the lead to 30-29.
Columbia Falls continued to attack the basket and the Cats pushed their lead as high as seven before taking a 38-33 advantage into the fourth quarter.
After a series of missed free throws by the Cats to open the final frame, the Yellowjackets took a brief 41-40 lead with four minutes to play. Shipp came off a screen and hit a jumper to give the Cats back the lead on their next possession and Danny Henjum pushed the lead to three on a layup after a good pass from Morgan.
Wanner helped put the game away for the Cats down the stretch, scoring five straight points in less than 40 seconds to put C-Falls up 52-45 before Bechtel and Shipp helped push the lead to 10 with 12 seconds to play to seal the win.
Shipp added five rebounds and three steals to go with his team-leading 18 points in the win while Wanner added 10 points and four assists. Morgan led the Cats in rebounding with eight and added nine points while Hovde had seven points and seven rebounds, Bechtel scored seven, Henjum had four and William Dyon added three points. Henjum also recorded five steals in the victory.
The Cats will be on the road this weekend as they play at the Northwest-Southwest Tip Off tourney at the University of Montana in Missoula. The Cats will take on Butte Central at 12:45 p.m. Friday and Frenchtown at 11:45 a.m. Saturday.