Third quarter woes cost ’Cats

Jason Ferguson

In a handful of games against tough opponents this season, the Custer High School basketball team has fallen into a familiar, less-than-favorable pattern.
Start strong, build a lead.
The opposition comes back to tie or take the lead by halftime.
Start the third quarter sluggish on offense, defense—or both—as the opposition takes control of the game.
Such was the case again last Thursday night at the Armory, as early hot shooting cooled off considerably and the Wildcats went from a first quarter lead to a four-point halftime deficit to a 12-point deficit in the third quarter on the way to a 63-56 loss.
“I think a lot of it is us. Our lack of patience,” Custer head coach Paul Kelley said. “We want to get the ball from sideline to sideline and get the best shot possible. We just aren’t doing that enough.”
The Wildcats were fighting illness in the game as well, as some of the players were dealing with some form of sickness, while tough opponents like Spearfish are just that—tough—and inevetiably will make some kind of run.
“Playing against good teams, you know they are going to give you a run after halftime,” Kelley said.
Custer, now 10-6, came out on fire in the game, going up 8-3 following a Rhett Lowe three-pointer. Carter Boyster got the Wildcats into double digits when he waited for traffic to clear for a layup.
From there Spearfish took to the run, fast-breaking off missed Custer baskets for layups and fouls, and cut the Custer lead to two after a Haroon Khan three-pointer.
Drew Lehman answered Khan’s three-pointer with a triple of his own, and the Wildcats took the lead into the second quarter and built on the lead with a Cody Dirkes putback and a Lehman corner three that put Custer up 27-22.
“Offensively we were doing what we needed to do, we just weren’t playing defense,” Kelley said. “We didn’t do much to get stops and got beat in transition. I should have pulled the press off, but (pressing) has been our identity all season.”
Spearfish scored the next seven points, however, and took its first lead of the game with 2:45 left in the second quarter when Kade Vavruska hit a three-pointer to make the score 29-27 in favor of the Spartans.
Custer regained the lead briefly, but Vavruska scored four points off a basket and free throw to give the Spartans the lead back, a lead they took into the break at 35-31.
The fateful third quarter started slow for both teams until the 6:25 mark, when Bennett Kortan hit a three-pointer and was fouled. He made the free throw, putting Spearfish up 39-33.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats struggled with fouls and turnovers, causing Kelley to substitute out four of his five starters.
While the Wildcat offense remained stagnant the Spartans continued to snipe from deep, hitting back-to-back three-pointers that put them up 49-37. A Kyle Virtue banked three-pointer for Custer stemmed the tide, but the Spartans carried a 49-41 lead into the final quarter.
Boyster got the Wildcats within six early in the fourth quarter with a basket. While the Wildcat defense worked hard to get stops, the offense couldn’t buy a basket. On one such possession the Wildcats got three shots at the hoop thanks to two offensive rebounds from Dirkes, but three three-point attempts all hit only iron.
The Wildcats made one last run at the Spartans with a Cade Lehman free throw and drive for a basket, but moments later Kamren Davis hit a dagger three-pointer from the corner to put the game away.
“We just played so poorly. That one was tough,” Kelley said. “They have just had our number. If you’re going to get where you want to be, you have to handle your business against those tough teams.”
A bright spot late in the game came when Virtue joined the 1,000-point club for his career, becoming the 12th Wildcat to do so. Virtue finished the game with 21 points to lead the Wildcats.
“That’s a pretty big accomplishment for anybody to get, let alone get it in their junior season,” Kelley said.
The loss dropped the Wildcats to fourth in the region standings, as the top four of Rapid City Christian, Hot Springs and St. Thomas More continue to jockey for position for postseason play.
The Wildcats will play their final three regular season games over the course of the next five days, beginning Thursday with an 8 p.m. game at Lead-Deadwood. The Golddiggers sit at the bottom of the conference and region standings with a record of 4-15.
“We have to play our style of basketball and not play to the level of compettion when you’re playing a team like that,” Kelley said.
Saturday the Wildcats will head south for a second matchup of the season with Hot Springs, one of the teams that has notched a narrow win over the Wildcats, a 50-48 Bison victory Feb. 1. The game is scheduled for a 6 p.m. tip.
“The big thing is we have to play the entire game with confidence and play team basketball,” Kelley said. “When we last played them it was the third quarter that pretty much cost us the game, and it was more self-inflicted than anything. Both teams know each other really well.”
The Wildcats wrap up the regular season with senior night Monday evening at 7 p.m. when the Hill City Rangers come to town. The Wildcats defeated the Rangers 62-51 in Hill City Jan. 19. Since that game the Rangers have lost four of five games, although the Rangers did receive a boost with a return of the previously-injured Zane Messick.
“It’s one of those games. Who wants it? Our kids from both schools know each other so well,” Kelley said. “It’s whether or not we can get them to play our style.”
Kelley said the Wildcats have to be wary of Devin Buehler, who scored 25 points the last time the team played, but also try to limit what his teammates do as well.
“If they get three or four of them contributing heavily, you’re in trouble,” he said.
Custer    19    12    10    15    —56
Spear    17    18    14    14    —63
Custer—Ayden Petz 1-2 0-0 3, Cade Lehman 1-8 2-4 4, Rhett Lowe 2-9 0-0 6, Cody Dirkes 3-9 1-2 7, Drew Lehman 3-8 0-0 9, Kyle Virtue 7-14 6-9 21, Roland Sedlacek 1-2 0-0 2, Carter Boyster 2-3 0-1 4. Totals: 20-55 9-16 56.
Spearfish—Bennett Kortan 4-8 4-8 14, Dylon Doren 4-8 1-1 9, Kamren Davis 4-11 3-4 13, Seth Hamilton 4-10 2-4 11, Brody Janvrin 0-3 0-0 0, Haroon Khan 2-2 0-0 6, Kade Vavruska 4-5 1-1 10, Tucker Olson 0-2 0-0 0. 22-49 11-18 63.
Three-point goals: Custer 7 (D. Lehamn 3, Lowe 2, Virtue 1, Petz). Spearfish 8 (Kortan 2, Davis 2, Khan 2, Vavruska, Hamilton). Rebounding: Custer 34 (Dirkes 10), Spearfish 32 (Doren 9). Assists: Custer 9, Spearfish 14. Steals: Custer 4, Spearfish 6. Turnovers: Custer 11, Spearfish 11. Total fouls: Custer 18, Spearfish 11. Fouled out: none.

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