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Libby boys hang on late to beat Columbia Falls by 3

by Brad FuquaWestern News
| February 16, 2009 11:00 PM

Leading by a dozen points in the home gymnasium with only 8 minutes left to play on Thursday night, Libby High School seemingly had a safe lead in its conference meeting against Columbia Falls.

Of course, this is the Northwestern A where no lead is safe.

The Wildcats rallied and had a chance to send the game into overtime in the final seconds but Libby’s Joel Fuller came up with a huge steal with 4 seconds left to give the Loggers a 37-34 victory.

“They’re too good of a team … maybe we were a little passive,” Libby coach Wally Winslow said about the fourth quarter when Columbia Falls outscored the Loggers, 16-7. “The biggest thing in the fourth quarter was not making free throws.”

Libby struggled at the foul line all night with a 45-percent success rate. In the fourth quarter alone, the Loggers converted on only 3-of-10 attempts.

Through last weekend’s results, Libby and Whitefish are tied for first place with 5-2 records. Polson is third at 5-3, which includes a 47-44 loss to Ronan on Friday.

Columbia Falls put the hurt on Libby in an early January matchup, 57-34. This time around, the Loggers were prepared to control the tempo.

“We had a heck of a lot less turnovers than when we played them in Columbia Falls,” Winslow said. “The game plan was not to turn over the ball, be patient on offense and rebound like crazy.”

The contest got off to a slow start on the scoreboard with both defenses wreaking havoc. Libby shot just 1-for-10 from the field in the opening frame and didn’t make a basket until Alex Cislo scored after an offensive rebound with 49 seconds left. Still, the Loggers led, 5-4, because Columbia Falls went just 1-for-5 from the field and made one less free throw.

In the second, the two teams started to warm up and the lead changed hands five times. With 2:40 left before the break, Libby senior Conner Benson hit a 3-pointer to give his team a 14-12 lead. That bucket sparked the Loggers to a 7-0 run to end the half.

Nate Broden scored on a setup inside and Cree Maloney converted on both ends of a 1-and-1 to give Libby an 18-12 lead at halftime.

Columbia Falls closed the gap early in the third but then Libby started to pull away. Fuller hit a jumper, Colton Cannon sank a 3-pointer and Cislo scored inside to put the Loggers up, 25-16. After the Wildcats broke the run with a jumper at 2:12, Libby finished up the third with five more straight points.

Kelly May scored with 1:21 left and Benson followed with a steal and a hoop while being fouled. He completed the three-point play to give Libby a 12-point lead and momentum heading into the fourth.

“At times you have to attack and we chose a good time to attack,” Winslow said about the third quarter. “You know we like to play fast but sometimes you can’t.”

Libby held its ground through the first half of the fourth quarter and led 34-22 with 3:52 remaining on a second straight Cislo basket on assists from May. But the Loggers managed only three points the rest of the game. Meanwhile, the Wildcats found life and went on a 7-0 run to pull to within 34-31 with 1:40 left.

Libby got its lead back up to five with 23 seconds remaining but the Wildcats had one final push with a 3-pointer by senior Nolan Mackey.

Coming out of a timeout, the Wildcats fouled immediately and sent Fuller to the free-throw line. He made 1-of-2 for a three-point Logger lead. Columbia Falls called another timeout with 7 seconds left to set up its final play. Fuller ruined those plans with his game-ending steal.

“I thought we defended very, very well,” Winslow said. “The press hurt us in Columbia Falls … the more times they scored, the more they pressed. Tonight, we eliminated the press frenzy.”

No player on either team hit double figures in the scoring column. Benson and Cislo finished with nine and eight points, respectively, for the Loggers. Cislo had four boards and May finished with four assists.

The Loggers (5-2, 10-4) were scheduled to play Bigfork on Tuesday in a game after presstime. The game was postponed from December and was originally rescheduled for last Friday. But school officials decided to push it back to Tuesday.

It Was Over When …

Libby’s Joel Fuller came up with a steal with 4 seconds remaining. Columbia Falls had just come out of a timeout and had a chance to tie the game with a 3-pointer but Fuller’s pick ended the visitors’ hopes for completing a comeback.

Game Ball

Kelly May and Alex Cislo teamed up on two key fourth-quarter baskets in the three-point Logger victory. With 5 minutes remaining and then again with 3:52 left, May executed with nice passes inside to Cislo who scored on layups.

Stat of the Game

Libby shot just 1-for-10 from the field in the first quarter and didn’t score on a field goal until just 49 seconds remained. Yet, the Loggers held a 5-4 lead heading into the second.

Loggers 37, Wildcats 34

Thursday at Libby

Columbia Falls (34)

Howell 2 0-0 4, Nolan 3 2-3 9, Robbins 0 1-2 1, Wassam 2 0-0 4, Getts 3 2-2 9, Williams 0 0-0 0, Johnson 0 0-0 0, T. Barth 0 0-0 0, A. Barth 1 1-2 3, Triplett 2 0-0 4. Totals 13 6-9 34.

Libby (37)

Benson 3 2-4 9, May 1 3-6 5, Fuller 2 1-2 5, Cannon 2 1-3 6, Cislo 4 0-3 8, Maloney 0 2-2 2, Broden 1 0-0 2. Totals 13 9-20 37.

Three-Pointers–Columbia Falls 2 (Nolan, Getts), Libby 2 (Benson, Cannon). Rebounds–Columbia Falls 28 (Wassam 9), Libby 23 (Cislo 8). Assists–Columbia Falls 9 (Wassam 3), Libby 8 (May 4). Total Fouls–Columbia Falls 21, Libby 11. Fouled Out–Wassam. Technical Fouls–None.