The 3A No. 3 Buffalo High School boys basketball team improved to 7-0 on the season, winning three games over the weekend after returning from a nearly one-month winter break with no game action.
Over the break, head coach Tanner Hart said, the team held consistent practices and saw varsity players in frequent open gyms, but the return to game action was still difficult after nearly a month of no gameplay and a seven-hour bus ride.
“It was a good chance for us to gauge our mental toughness as a team and, you know, just kind of see how we can create wins when maybe we’re not physically to that level yet by running the offense, being disciplined and playing good defense,” Hart said.
The Bison opened the weekend of games on Friday evening against the 3A No. 5 Lyman Eagles (3-7). The Bison and the Eagles played a closely contested first half, with the Bison frequently opening small leads but never being able to pull away from the Eagles, leading just 30-26 at halftime.
Despite the slim lead, Hart said, he felt his team was playing well but wasn’t further ahead because “we just weren’t finishing around the rim.”
In the third quarter, however, the Bison figured out how to finish those scoring chances.
Smart plays in transition led to easy buckets in the paint, and a number of 3-pointers from junior Keehan Rickett and sophomore Cam Johnson contributed to an explosive third quarter of offense that saw the Bison put up 23 points.
“One thing we want to get a team doing is running, because Lyman, they didn’t have as much depth as we do, and if we can get them running and get their legs a little bit tired, then we’re going to get better looks on offense on our end,” Hart said.
Those better looks, along with typically strong defense, helped the Bison pull away in the second half for a 69-55 victory.
Leading the scoring was sophomore Eli Patterson, who scored a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Senior Jackson Moon added 11 points and Johnson scored nine — all on 3-pointers.
In the second game of the weekend, the Bison took on the Pinedale Rangers (0-10) for the second time this season — putting in another dominant matchup on both sides of the court en route to a 64-36 win.
Hart said he was particularly pleased with his team’s defensive effort in the game, praising senior Tony Peters for his man-to-man defensive effort and senior Blake Bell’s efforts in relief of Peters.
“We’ve got some athletes that, I think, are pretty versatile between Blake, Eli, Tony, and a kid like Nate Killian, and they can guard a lot of different positions,” Hart said.
Against Pinedale, the Bison’s scoring was extremely balanced — with Moon, Killian and Patterson all putting up 11 points. Patterson added 11 rebounds for his second double-double of the weekend. Rickett scored 10 points and senior Kael Kennedy came off the bench and grabbed nine rebounds.
Buffalo then capped off the weekend of wins with a 58-45 victory over last year’s 3A state runners-up, Mountain View (4-7).
Throughout the game, Buffalo faced a stout 2-3 zone defense intended to slow down the fast-paced Bison offense.
And while they didn’t score as many points as in the first two games, Hart was pleased with the performance.
“I still feel like putting up 58 points against the 2-3 zone wasn’t bad,” Hart said. “It just took a little more patience on our end to earn those points.”
After the successful weekend back from a long break between games, Hart said he is pleased with the direction the Bison are headed and is happy to have Moon back in the scoring column consistently.
But he’d like the team to improve on man-to-man defense and work on turning up the defensive heat with the press.
The Bison will host a makeup game against Sheridan at 7 p.m. Thursday. Then on Saturday, the Bison will be on the road against the Burns Broncs (6-5).