Win No. 900 will have to wait.
On the verge of yet another milestone in a career paved with them, Great Falls boys basketball coach John Smith will try again Friday against Lewisville for another shot at his 900th career victory. But the 44-year veteran didn’t much care about the record after his team fell to McBee 45-40 Tuesday night, dropping his team to 6-7 on the season.
“The 900 will come. There’s something about being here the night that 900 comes, but you may have to be here a long time,” Smith said to several reporters, chuckling.
McBee coach Omoro King said afterward that the win was McBee’s first at Great Falls in “30-something years.” In a game where the largest lead was six points, the Panthers closed the game on a 10-2 run to pick up the big win.
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“We’re proud of the win,” said King, excitedly. “This was a must-win for us; we couldn’t fall to 0-2 in the region.”
Rashad Reed (22) and Nyaun Pate (16) scored 38 of McBee’s 45 and burned the Red Devils in transition repeatedly, taking advantage of long rebounds for a litany of two-on-ones.
“Transition really hurt us tonight,” said Smith, whose team this year has no seniors. “They got the layups at the key times when we were trying to knock down jumpers. As our shots wouldn’t go down, we got more and more frustrated.”
Transition defense will just be the latest facet of the game that Smith’s youthful Red Devils have had to focus on. Great Falls has won the last two Class A state championships, but graduated four of five starters from last year’s 28-1 club, and the fifth starter, this season’s leading scorer Jamarcus Culp, dislocated his shoulder during a December tournament. He hasn’t returned yet, and neither has Great Falls’ late game moxie that locked up so many close games over the years.
“They seemed a little more relaxed and the situation didn’t seem to bother them,” said Smith about the Panthers. “We looked a little bit uncomfortable and unsure of ourselves. It looked to me at the end of the game nobody was really sure who we wanted to shoot.”
Smith won his 800th game against McBee in 2009, and King and his Panthers eagerly wanted to avoid another historical footnote as the two teams slogged through an ugly first half. The visitors jumped out in front 4-0 early, with Smith grabbing his players’ attention with several stern rebukes. The hosts evened the score at 8-8 and then took the lead on Tyjai Woodard’s two free throws. Sophomore Nigel Simpson, who’s 5-foot-4, then dropped in a silky jumper to put the Red Devils up 13-11 with 2 minutes left in the first quarter, but that was all the scoring until the second.
The game’s quality deteriorated rapidly in the second quarter. Frustrated, Smith leaned back on the bleacher while his team turned the ball over and the Panthers surged ahead. A sweet up-and-under scoop from Reed gave McBee a 21-15 lead and prompted a timeout from the Red Devils’ bench.
Great Falls scored the last five points of the half though to chisel the Panthers’ halftime lead to 21-20. Mardre Dean capitalized on a McBee defensive mix-up to knock in a wide open three with 7 seconds left to send Smith’s team into the locker room with something positive to discuss.
The second half continued in much the same vein. Great Falls led 30-29 heading into the fourth quarter when both offenses woke up slightly. Around the 5-minute mark the hosts had three straight chances to stretch a three-point lead to five and really put the pressure on McBee, but, typical of an inexperienced club, the Red Devils were never able to get the killer bucket.
“All of our games have been like that,” said Smith. “Of our 13 games, only Anson County hasn’t been one possession. We haven’t gotten to the point experience-wise where with a three-point lead you can get a layup or a shot you can’t miss. We took good shots; we just didn’t take shots you couldn’t miss.”
King’s team hit 13 of 15 free throws, including all six in the fourth quarter to salt away the win. Smith was asked if he could remember the last time Great Falls lost seven games in a season.
“No... nope,” said Smith. “It’s been 25 years, 30 years.”
McBee: Rashad Reed 22, Christian Ferguson 2, Lewis Hart 5, Nyaun Pate 16; Great Falls: Nigel Simpson 8, Mardre Dean 9, Tyjai Woodard 6, David Jeter 11, Chris Culp 6.
3-point goals: McBee 2 (Pate 2); Great Falls 1 (Dean).
Team fouls: McBee 9; Greats Falls 12.
Foul shots: McBee 13-15; Great Falls 3-8.
Records: McBee 5-11, 1-1; Great Falls 6-7, 2-1.