by nathan oster
Seniors Kason Clutter, Payton Gonzalez, Logan Jensen, Paul Stewart and Bryce Wright couldn’t have written a better script for the final home game of their career.
Coach Jim Prather penciled all five into his starting lineup Friday night against Tongue River — and the group delivered, building a 14-1 lead before Prather ever went to his bench and setting the tone for what would be a 71-38 Greybull victory.
The win capped a 19-3 regular season for the Buffs.
“We haven’t always started seniors just because they are seniors on Senior Night,” said Prather. “But this was a year where Coach (Nolan) Tracy and I felt like these guys had put in a lot of time and effort into our program.
“They have had a tremendous team-first attitude through the season and during their times at GHS. In short, they earned the start. They deserved it.”
Clutter finished with 18 points, nine boards, and seven assists to lead the Buffs. He also grabbed nine rebounds and dished out seven more assists, giving him 153 for the year. Clutter needs just seven more to pass Travis Sylvester, whose 159 assists in 2012 are the most of the Prather era, which began in 1999.
Gonzalez went out with 10 points, Stewart with eight, Jensen with six and Wright with four, as the seniors accounted for 46 of the team’s 71 points.
The Buffs had another good shooting night, hitting 52 percent from the field, and had only 12 turnovers, six fewer than they had against the Eagles when the two teams met earlier this season in Dayton.
“When you only have 12 turnovers, you’re getting good shots at the basket and executing at a high level, it’s a tough combination for an opponent to overcome,” said Prather.
The regular season is, of course, just act one of a three-part play. But going 19-3 and finishing unbeaten in league play is a quite an accomplishment in itself.
“I congratulated the boys on a nice regular season, and I feel like since the Wyoming Indian game (which the Buffs lost by five in Ethete), they’ve been even more focused than they were early in the year. Their execution has improved. They’re playing better basketball.
“We walked out of that gym (in Ethete) feeling like we really could play with anybody, if we do our things correctly — and lately, we have been.”
The Buffs will be the No. 1 from the Northwest Conference when the Class 2A West Regional tips today in Riverton. The Buffs will take the floor at 7 p.m. at Riverton High School against Kemmerer.
The Buffs beat the Rangers 58-38 at the Big Horn Basin Shootout, but Prather said that means nothing for the rematch. “They have personnel now that they didn’t have then,” he said, referring to Tyler Roberts. At 14.1 points per game, he’s ranked fifth in the Southwest Conference in scoring.
“He’s a senior, 6-3, their best player, and he gives them a dimension they didn’t have the first weekend of the season,” said Prather. “Their size worries me; any time you have guys who are 6-5 (in the case of Tre Deeter, the Southwest’s leading rebounder) and 6-3 (Roberts), they are going to be tough guys for us to guard.
“My job as coach is going to be to convince our kids that what we saw the first time isn’t what we’re going to see this time,” he said.
Kemmerer didn’t have a good year, record-wise, finishing 7-14.
Greybull will play either Lovell or Big Piney on Friday, depending upon the outcome of Thursday’s games. The Buffs won’t need any introduction if it’s Lovell, a team they beat twice during the regular season.
Big Piney, though, isn’t the same team the Buffs clobbered 61-45 on the opening night of the season or the one that two days later was crushed by 1A power Burlington, 56-29. The Punchers have lost only once since that opening weekend, falling by nine at Wyoming Indian, and will enter the regional with a 19-3 record.
“I have a lot of respect for their coach,” said Prather. “There are only a few teams that play like we do. I think it’s a credit to our kids; they buy into the system and do the things we do well to impact how the game is going to be played. Well, Big Piney is very similar to us in that regard. Some of their kids are seniors who have been playing since they were freshmen, when they took some lumps. They qualified for state last year, though, and have played really well all season. If we’re fortunate enough to play them, it will be a big game. But first things first…we need to take care of business against Kemmerer.”
The goal, as always, is simply to win two before losing two.
“Our mission all along has been to be playing our best the final weekend of the season — and for us, we think of that last week as March 6-8, not the end of February. We don’t really worry too much about how we place at regionals, we just want to place.”
Tongue R. 12 8 4 14 — 38
Greybull 22 16 17 16 — 71
TONGUE RIVER — Main 2 0-0 4, Linhart 3 0-0 7, Jefferson 1 0-0 2, Scammon 3 0-2 6, Dockery 3 1-2 7, Schumacher 1 2-2 5, Buller 2 2-4 6, Dean H 0 1-2 1. Totals 15 6-12 38.
GREYBULL — Payton Gonzalez 4 2-3 10, Wyatt Nielson 1 0-0 3, Calder Forcella 3 0-0 6, Kason Clutter 6 3-3 18, Ryan Sylvester 4 0-1 8, Paul Stewart 3 2-4 8, Bryce Wright 1 2-2 4, Logan Jensen 3 0-1 6, Treston Tracy 4 0-1 8. Totals 29 9-15 71.
3-POINT GOALS — Linhart, Schumacher; Clutter 3, Nielson. REBOUNDS — Greybull 33 (Clutter 9). STEALS — Greybull 15 (Clutter, Stewart 3). ASSISTS — Greybull 23 (Clutter 7). TURNOVERS — Greybull 12.