The Trappers lost 77-75 on Miles City’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer that fell as the head coaches of both teams requested a timeout.
Northwest head coach Brian Erickson said he started to call a timeout as soon as NWC sophomore Jordon Rood’s go-ahead shot was in the air.
“I thought we were in a good position. I told them we were going to call a timeout when we make it,” Erickson said. “The officials knew it. I’m yelling ‘timeout,’ I’m on the floor. Their coach was on the floor calling timeout.
“The kid made a great shot, but the officials weren’t there.”
The home loss ended the season for the Trappers, who finished 17-14 overall.
Each team made multiple comebacks in what Erickson called “a crazy game.”
The Trappers found themselves down by 12 points in the first half before a 19-0 run put them up by 12 and in seemingly firm control of the contest.
“It was just such weird game like that,” Erickson said. “We’re in control a little bit then the next thing you know their coaches are saying the exact same thing.”
The Trappers led 45-38 after a first half that saw them shoot 45.9 percent from the field and 7-for-18 on threes, a fortune that would not carry over into the second half.
Northwest’s ability to knock down shots wasn’t the only thing that changed at the break, according to Erickson.
“(The officials) let us play more in the second half,” he said. “That’s one of the toughest things. You go into any half, and if the officials are calling it a certain way … you expect them to call that. You’ve adjusted to what they’re calling, then they start calling something different.
“I don’t complain about officials as long as they’re consistent. This game was just really inconsistent on both ends, for both teams.”
Erickson added that Miles City played a good game and there was no guarantee that a more consistently officiated game, or a final timeout, would have changed the outcome.
“It was just disappointing,” Erickson said. “It was a great play at the end, I don’t want to take anything away from Miles City or that kid.”
The coach also said the loss should send a clear message to his players that every moment of a game matters.
“It’s on us, we didn’t do a good enough job on defense, little things throughout the game,” Erickson said. “It’s just always one possession. It could have been the first possession, the second possession.”
The Trappers out-rebounded the Pioneers 46-37, had 22 assists to their 11 but committed 20 turnovers, six more than Miles.
Freshman Sukhjot Bains led Northwest with 16 points and 16 rebounds, both team highs, to go with a game-high seven assists. Bains was 6-for-13 from the field, 2-for-4 on 3-pointers and 2-for-2 from the free throw line. He was one of just three Trappers to shoot better than 45 percent from the floor.
“We started attacking more and he was a lot more aggressive, and I think guys played with that, ‘if we lose, we’re done’ (mentality),” Erickson said.
Erickson said Bains’ all-around game developed as the freshman battled through some early season shooting woes.
“The one great thing about him this year was that he did struggle shooting it from the three real early, so he did find out there were other parts of his game,” Erickson said.
Freshman Levi Londole was a perfect 7-for-7 from the field and scored 14 points, but wasn’t a big enough part of the Northwest offense. Londole attempted just two shots in the second half, when the Trappers were outscored 39-30.
“He needed to get more touches, but on both ends I think he did a good job,” Erickson said of Londole. “Dan (Milota) was in foul trouble most of the game, didn’t get an opportunity to play, and Levi stepped up.”
Londole added nine rebounds and two assists.
Rood, who broke a 75-75 tie to put the Trappers seconds away from advancing to the second round, finished with 13 points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal.
Freshman Grantham Gillard had a double-double with 13 points and 11 boards, but the guard shot just 3-for-16 from deep, and 4-of-19 overall.
As a team, the Trappers shot 9-for-31 from distance — and just 2-for-13 in the second half — in an attempt to take advantage Miles City’s zone defense.
“We shot too many threes in the end. We weren’t hitting them,” Erickson said. “It kind of went against our game plan. We need a couple more of those to fall but we just shot too many.”
The perimeter-oriented offense left the Trappers with just 12 free throw attempts, of which they made eight, compared to a 12-of-17 night from the stripe for the Pioneers.
Milota finished 3-for-5 from the floor but early foul trouble limited him to just 14:32 of playing time. He finished with six points and no rebounds in his final game as a Trapper.
Freshman Jordy Telfort added nine points, four rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot.
Looking for leadership
The freshmen-heavy Trappers lacked the stable leadership normally provided by a strong sophomore class, but Erickson believes the experience of this season will benefit the returners next year.
“We lost a lot of sophomores (to graduation) but we lost some really good captains and we lost great leadership,” Erickson said. “That was my worry with bringing in a lot of talented freshmen.”
The Trappers became a more cohesive unit down the stretch of the season, as they finished the year with back-to-back Region IX victories and clinched winning season.
“The last couple weeks we finally clicked,” Erickson said. “I feel good as we go into next year to have some guys who went through some adversity. We’ll be mentally tough and those little things you won’t have to teach.”
It wasn’t what the Trappers were looking for in the year following their national tournament run, but a handful of off-court issues and an in-season roster shakeup could be blessings in disguise. Erickson recalled the 2013-14 season, in which Northwest dealt with similar leadership issues and finished 18-14 overall and 1-1 in the Region IX Tournament.
“Then we go into the next year and the guys we had returning went ‘This is our team,’ and took some ownership of it,” Erickson said.
That next season, the 2014-15 season, ended with a Region IX championship and a quarterfinal appearance in the national tournament.