By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – Down by as much as eight points in the final three minutes of the game versus Hill City last Friday night in Case Auditorium, the Hot Springs Bison boys’ basketball team relied heavily on the long ball, as the three-point bucket became their best friend to keep them in the game down the stretch.
And no three-pointer was more important than the buzzer-beater by junior Matt Norton, which tickled the twine with two seconds left as part of an exciting 50-49 come-from-behind win in front of the hometown fans.
The thrilling win was the eighth victory in a row for Hot Springs head coach Aaron Noteboom and his Bison boys, which also avenged a 42-47 defeat his team suffered to the Rangers on the road in their second game of the season on Dec. 16.
Despite holding a four point, 21-17, advantage at halftime over Hill City, the Bison saw their lead slowly disappear in the second half. Down eight points with under a minute left in the third quarter, the Bison were able to score six points in only a few seconds as Logan Barndt and Thane Lockhart sunk back-to-back three-point baskets to pull within two points, 31-33, heading into the fourth quarter.
The final quarter was tightly contested, but Hill City held the upper hand throughout most of the remainder of the game. The Bison however pulled within one point with just 23 seconds left after Lockhart sunk a pair of free throws to make the score 47-48.
After a Hill City timeout with 14 seconds left, the Bison stopped the clock again as they sent Hill City senior Jacob Harris to the foul line where he made the front-end of two-shot bonus, which increased the Rangers’ lead to 49-47 as the Bison set up their final possession.
After the missed free throw, junior Thane Lockhart took the rebound and dribbled down the court until he was met by a wall of Hill City defenders in the Hot Springs paint. He then swung the ball over to Morgan Harkless at the opposite wing, who then fired the ball to a trailing Norton at the top of the key. With the crowd on their feet in anticipation, Norton set his feet and let it fly towards the hoop where it touched iron but then dropped through the net to give the Bison a one point lead. Hill City took the inbound and attempted a full court desperation shot with two seconds left, but it fell short of its target and the Bison won.
Hot Springs head coach Aaron Noteboom said they actually had another play set up to run for the final shot, but when Hill City missed the back-end of the one-and-one, “we just pushed the floor and tried to scramble,” he said.
“Thane made a good play, found Morgan open and Morgan made a great play finding the hot hand in Matt with the extra pass,” Coach Noteboom said. “It was a super unselfish play all around.”
Lockhart led Hot Springs in scoring with 15 along with six assists, followed by Norton with 13 and senior Logan Gooder with 10. Logan Barndt had nine rebounds for the Bison. Hill City’s Noah Krull and Taylor Edwards each had 14 points apiece.
Also last week, the Bison earned two more road wins, defeating Wall on Tuesday by a score of 80-32 and then Crawford, Neb., on Thursday, by a score of 65-54.
In the Wall win, the Bison were led by a trio of players in double-digits as the Logans – Barndt and Gooder – each had 18 points apiece, and Morgan Harkless had 10. Gooder also grabbed eight boards and had six steals, while Lockhart added 12 assists.
Versus Crawford, the Bison jumped out to a 22-4 lead in the first quarter and held on for the 11 point win as four players earned double-digits, including Gooder, Norton and Barndt each with 14 and Kelton Harris also adding 12, Harkless had eight rebounds and seven assists, while Lockhart had a team-high eight assists.
“It was a good week of basketball for the Bison,” said Coach Noteboom. “I am very proud of these boys for working hard to improve each and every day and that hard work is beginning to pay off.
“Defense has been the primary focus since the beginning of January and although we need to become more consistent on that end of the floor, we continue to make progress,” Noteboom added. “Overall I am happy with where we are right now and believe that our best is still ahead of us. As always, our goal will be to continue to improve and ultimately be playing our best basketball come tournament time.”
Hot Springs (9-5 overall) is currently sitting in second place of Region 8A behind Rapid City Christian (10-1) but ahead of St. Thomas More (6-7) in third place. This week, the team travels to Douglas (9-4) on Thursday and then to Custer on Friday (3-11).
Brett Nachtigall/Fall River County Herald
Hot Springs juniors Morgan Harkless (far right) and Matt Norton leap into the air as they celebrate with their teammates a one-point victory following Norton’s three-point basket last Friday night at Case Auditorium, which went through the net just prior to time expiring.