by nathan oster
With their head coach under fire and a group of seven seniors playing for the final time at home, the Greybull Buffs were not going to be denied victory Friday in their regular season finale against Tongue River.
The Buffs controlled tempo and the boards and shot nearly 44 percent from the field en route to a 57-39 win over the Eagles. It was quite a reversal from their first meeting, which was won by Tongue River 72-64.
“The kids did a nice job of not letting everything that was going on become a distraction,” said Coach Nolan Tracy, who guided the Buffs in the absence of Jim Prather. “They didn’t let it become a distraction…in fact, they used it as motivation.
“It was as hard as I’ve seen them play since the Lovell game.”
The Buffs put up 57 points, but Tracy said the key to the win was their defense, and in particular, their ability to stop the high-scoring Stephen Yellowtail. The senior from TR netted just 12 points, 10 fewer than in the first meeting between the two teams.
Greybull played a zone defense with an emphasis stopping on Yellowtail. Tracy said the team refers to it as its “Wizard” set — “where you are making sure you’re keeping track of the one player most capable of beating you.
“We ran full-court press most of the game too — not necessarily to get steals, but to control tempo,” Tracy said, adding that the Buffs also did a good job defending Tongue River’s complementary players.
Offensively, Kason Clutter set the pace for the Buffs. The sophomore netted 20 points and dished out four assists, all while committing just three turnovers. Neil Getzfreid, one of the team’s seven seniors, also went out with a good night, netting 14 points.
In the record books, it will go down as nothing more than a non-conference victory.
But to Tracy and the Buffs, there was far more at stake.
Tracy was head coach of the Buffs for two seasons in the late 1990s (1997-98 and 1998-99) before Prather arrived in town. For the past 13 seasons, the two men have shared the Greybull bench, with Prather calling the shots and Tracy being his top assistant.
“I talked with the team a lot before hand, and I told them it meant absolutely nothing in terms of our seed for the regional — but that it was critically important for us as a team,” Tracy said. “I emphasized to them that if you watch the NCAA tournament, the teams that go deep are the ones who enter on a roll, and not the ones who lose three or four in a row to finish the season.
In Greybull’s final two games, it beat two of the top teams from the Northeast in Big Horn and Tongue River.
“I’m proud of the way the kids are handling things,” he said. “We know what to expect (from the teams we’ll see at regional’s). I have a great, positive outlook right now. If we can continue this momentum, I think we’ll do all right.”
Heading into the regional, the Buffs have seen four of the five teams from the Southwest, the only exception being Shoshoni. They are 2-2 against that quartet, having beaten Big Piney 72-31 and Kemmerer 55-40 while losing to Wind River 38-32 and Wyoming Indian 82-63.
With the No. 3 seed, the Buffs drew the Chiefs. Expect the “Wizard” to return in some fashion, as John Soundingsides is to Wyoming Indian every bit of what Stephen Yellowtail is to Tongue River. In fact, Soundingsides went for 65 last week in a win over Shoshoni.
“If you look at the stats, one kid takes the majority of the shots,” Tracy said. “Obviously, we need to know where he is at all times.”
The Buffs and the Chiefs will square off at 5 p.m. today (Thursday, Feb. 23) at Riverton High School. If the Buffs win, they’ll face the winner of the Lovell-Big Piney-Shoshoni game at 7:30 p.m. Friday. If they lose to the Chiefs, the Buffs will next take the court at 1:30 p.m., either at RHS or Central Wyoming College.
“The great news is, we only need two wins — and it doesn’t matter what order we get them,” Tracy said. “We’re going there to win two games. We would like to win two in a row to begin with so we don’t have that loser-out game … but the mindset has to be one of confidence and knowing what you’re doing.
“Friday night our kids showed they believed in the system and in each other.”
Tongue R. 12 8 13 6 — 39
Greybull 15 15 19 8 — 57
TONGUE RIVER — Moore 2 2-2 7, Jolovich 1 0-2 2, S. Yellowtail 6 0-2 12, M. Yellowtail 2 0-2 4, Dockery 3 4-6 11, Gross 0 3-4 3. Totals 14 9-18 39.
GREYBULL — Austin Frazier 2 2-2 6, Edward DeCabooter 1 0-0 2, Kason Clutter 9 0-0 20, Quinton Haley 1 2-2 4, Travis Sylvester 1 0-0 2, Neil Getzfreid 7 0-3 14, Hayden Goton 1 1-2 3, Brady Shoemaker 3 0-0 6. Totals 25-57 5-9 57.
3-POINT GOALS — Clutter 2; Dockery, Moore. REBOUNDS — Greybull 36 (Getzfreid 11). ASSISTS — Greybull 20 (Sylvester 7). STEALS — Greybull 11 (Sylvester 3). TURNOVERS — Greybull 21.