COLUMBIA, MO - The Billings Wildcats (29-3) are class 2 state champs after knocking off Salisbury (30-2) 83-79 Saturday afternoon at Mizzou Arena. It is the first state boys basketball title for the small Christian County school.
It was a game of runs as Billings exploded to an early 11-0 lead.
The Wildcat's hot shooting in the early going neutralized Salisbury's size advantage. Billings jumped out to a 14-4 lead, with 4 of the 5 starters knocking down 3-pointers during that stretch. They would go on to build a 23-12 lead after the 1st quarter.
The 2nd quarter was more of the same, the quickness of Billings was on display and the Wildcats headed to the locker room feeling confident with a 41-23 advantage.
That confident feeling took a hit in the 2nd half as the Panthers started the 3rd quarter on a 14-1 run, and got the Billings lead down to just 5. Shots were hard to come by in the 3rd, but Billings managed to get to the free throw line enough to cling to a 52-43 lead heading into the 4th quarter.
It would get no easier in the 4th. Salisbury would close within 3 points with 30 seconds to play, but they would never get any closer.
Free throws proved to be the difference, as Billings shot 76% from the charity stripe (36-47) while Salisbury shot only 50% (14-28).
Billings closed the season on a 14-game winning streak after dropping a pair of games to fellow Final Four teams Nixa and Mt Vernon in the Nixa Invitational in late January.
The Wildcats high powered offense finished the season averaging 74.6 points per game. They will be a favorite to repeat as state champ next season as they return all but 3 players, including starters Austin Essick, Brady Chastain and Chad Yeokum.