Hettinger 4, Regent 2: Players, coaches and officials recall the infamous low-scoring gameCurt Honeyman knew the idea was a little crazy. Then again, it was also so simple he wondered if it also wasn’t the perfect plan.
By: Dustin Monke, The Dickinson Press
Curt Honeyman knew the idea was a little crazy.
Then again, it was also so simple he wondered if it also wasn’t the perfect plan.
In the days leading up the 1992 District 24 boys basketball tournament, Honeyman preached patience to his Regent Rangers team.
“Patience to the extreme,” said Scott Sheldon, the Rangers’ sophomore guard and leading scorer that season.
Honeyman’s theory was that if the Rangers could sit in their four-corners offense long enough, they could force the taller, more talented Hettinger Black Devils into defensive errors, put points on the scoreboard and keep the game from spiraling out of their reach.
On the evening of Feb. 27, 1992, at Solberg Gymnasium in Bowman, Honeyman sent his team onto the court with simple goals: be deliberate and patient on offense and control the tempo.
He never expected, 20 years later, people would remember the game.
Then again, he also never expected the final buzzer to sound with this score:
Hettinger 4, Regent 2.
“We knew we couldn’t play with them basket for basket,” Honeyman said. “We had to try and keep the score close and keep it low. But nobody in the gym, including myself, knew that it was going to turn out that way.”
‘Boring’ to bedlam
The 1991-92 Regent boys basketball team had its struggles during the regular season. It entered the District 24 tournament with a 7-12 record and the No. 7 seed.
In each of the next two years, the Rangers would reach the region championship game. But this team was not there yet — not at all.
“I thought the reason that we had to do that, going into the game, was because we were young and weak,” said Honeyman, who added that Regent had slowed the tempo on teams several times during the season with varied success. “We were kind of hoping Hettinger would come out and guard us. We thought they would. They didn’t.”
The Black Devils won the tip and junior Brent Earsley scored on a put-back shot in the post on their first possession, just 35 seconds into the game.
As Hettinger ran back to set up its half-court defense, Regent slowly brought up the ball.
The Rangers would have possession for the next 15:24.
“It was kind of a cat-and-mouse game,” Honeyman said. “One side of the gym (Regent’s) was roaring and screaming. The other side (Hettinger’s) was, ‘Boring, boring,’ hollering that.”
Along the way, however, there were a handful of highlights.
Regent freshman Steve Wiseman missed a shot from the right baseline at the end of the first quarter. Three times in the first 2 minutes of the second quarter, Hettinger’s players came out and defended the Rangers before quickly sagging back.
“Honestly, I think, looking back, we were kind of dazed,” Earsley said. “We didn’t really know what to do. I remember looking at the sidelines and looking from the coaching staff. What we were supposed to do? When he (Hettinger head coach John Butterfield) just waved us back, it was like, wow. What’s really going on here? It wasn’t like we expected it coming into the game (or) had any idea. I think he just wanted to play our game, back off and see what happened.”
Contrary to some memories, a few things did happen in the game. Still, there was a lot of dribbling, passing and holding the basketball without a hint of trying to score — not until the final seconds of the second quarter anyway.
With 4 seconds remaining, Wiseman came off a screen and spotted up for a wide-open 3-pointer from the right corner. The basketball caromed off the rim and right into the waiting hands of Rangers senior Ryan Kudrna.
In paint and surrounded by three taller Hettinger players, Kudrna grabbed the rebound, turned and tossed up a shot.
“When we tied the game up, the crowd went crazy like we just won the state championship,” said Kudrna, now 37 years old and the director of treatment at the North Dakota Youth Correctional Center in Mandan.
“It was a fluke,” Kudrna said. “It came to me and I just reacted. It came to me off the rebound, I reacted, shot it and it went in. There wasn’t really much that went into the shot itself except I was in the right place at the right time.
“I wasn’t the No. 1 option for the shot, let’s just say that.”
Déjà vu for Butterfield
As soon as Butterfield realized what Regent was trying to accomplish, he said he was reminded of a memorable game from his high school days.
Butterfield was a standout on the 1957-58 Hettinger team that won the Class B state championship. That season, Hettinger faced heated rival Lemmon, S.D.
Butterfield said Lemmon’s plan was eerily similar to what Regent tried to accomplish.
“What they did, when they got possession of the ball, they didn’t care what the score was,” Butterfield said. “They hipped the ball, sat out at midcourt. We sat in a zone and watched them do the same thing that Regent did.”
Hettinger won that game too. The final score was 10-5.
If any coach knew how to win a game with the other team stalling, it was Butterfield.
“I still can’t believe John took the chance of keeping the score as close as it was when they were so much better than us,” Honeyman said.
Butterfield said he had his reasons for allowing Regent to hold the ball.
He believed that Regent was a faster team and the Black Devils, despite being the No. 2 seed and one of then Region 8’s top teams, didn’t have a player who could truly guard Sheldon.
Sheldon was a skinny but quick 6-foot-3 guard who went on to become a Mr. Basketball candidate and Regent’s all-time leading scorer. With Sheldon running the Rangers’ offense, Butterfield knew they would try and hold the ball as long as it could while utilizing their quickness and strong baseline shooting.
He never thought Regent would hold the ball for an entire quarter.
“I guess I got a lot of ridicule for sitting back,” said Butterfield, who recently retired after winning 660 games in a four-decade coaching career. “You found out who liked you and who didn’t. The ones that didn’t like me very well, they found a lot of fault in backing off.”
Honeyman, who finished a 23-year coaching career with 319 victories, laughs about the game now and wonders if Butterfield simply outcoached him.
“Who knows who was right? They won the game, so maybe they were the ones that were right,” Honeyman said with a smile.
As Honeyman walked into the locker room at halftime, with the score tied 2-2, he was convinced the Rangers had put themselves in position to win the game.
However, he left the decision of whether or not to continue stalling up to his team.
“The adrenaline was really running,” Honeyman said. “It was just like we’d won the state tournament when we were going into the locker room. I come in the locker room, it was just noisy, hollering, screaming. I remember asking the guys, ‘Should we go play basketball in the second half or should we keep doing this?’ They all were just, let’s keep doing it.”
Hettinger, a team that thrived on finding the right shot and executing offensively, got the ball first in the third quarter and was almost as deliberate as Regent had been in the first half.
For 2 minutes, the Black Devils worked the ball around the perimeter as they looked for a high-percentage shot against the Rangers’ strong zone defense.
They found it in 6-foot-7 junior center Jeremy Vliem, who missed his first shot in the post — “That was the first heart attack,” Butterfield said with a laugh — before putting the Black Devils back on top, 4-2, with a put-back shot.
Again, the Rangers stalled.
Sheldon said while he believed in Honeyman’s strategy, there was a part of him that wanted to break to the basket.
“It was probably one of the most intense — just strangely intense — games I’ve ever played,” Sheldon said. “It wasn’t so much physical, it was more mental. As a 16-year-old, I wanted to absolutely jump out of my shoes. I was ready to go. For me to stand there for that long was uncomfortable. But I believed Curt, that this was our best chance to win.”
With 10 seconds left in the third quarter, the Rangers gave 6-foot-7 center Jason Monke a look from the right baseline.
Again, another miss.
Eric Binstock, a senior reserve starting in place of injured teammate Jeremy Krauter, fouled Earsley on the rebound and gave Hettinger a chance to extend its lead with 8 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The Rangers committed another foul to keep Hettinger from running a full-court fast break on the ensuing inbounds pass. Earsley took another shot, a running 3-pointer that fell short as time expired.
“The first three quarters, it was pretty laidback,” Earsley said. “Personally, I was a little confused as to what was going on. You’re just kind of standing around for 7½ minutes and you have to get serious at the end. When the fourth quarter started, we realized they were going to have a chance at a last-second shot. I think that’s when the nerves started to sink in and it started to get pretty serious.”
Hectic fourth quarter
Pressure built on both teams in the fourth quarter.
Hettinger slowly forced Regent into making more passes by guarding them closely.
“They jumped out of their zone a couple times just to put a little pressure on us,” Sheldon said. “I remember getting my in stance going and, ‘What foot is my pivot foot?’”
When Hettinger began defending the basketball, it put everyone — including officials Ken Keller and Steve Glasser — in a much more intense situation than they had been in for most of the game.
Keller said Honeyman approached himself and Glasser with some odd questions about rules before the game.
“Right off the bat, we were asked about the closely guarded situation and the lack-of-action situation,” said Keller, a longtime coach and athletic director at Dickinson Trinity High School. “We knew something was up.”
With less than 3 minutes to play, Sheldon tested the waters a handful of times. He made a pair of dribble drives into the heart of Hettinger’s zone defense but quickly brought the ball back to the perimeter. Eventually, the Rangers called a time out with 59 seconds left.
As time ticked away, the crowd that had been on the edge of their seats began to rise.
With 27 seconds left, the unthinkable happened to Regent.
Hettinger senior Chris Morey, who had been at the top of the team’s zone the entire game stepped in front of Wiseman’s pass intended for Kudrna and raced in for a layup.
Or did he?
Glasser blew his whistle and called Kudrna for a foul on Morey just before he pulled away.
“At the time, I was blown away,” said Butterfield, who said he wanted an intentional foul called on Kudrna.
Butterfield would get even more upset when Sheldon tipped the ball to Wiseman and the Rangers stole the ball back on the Black Devils’ third attempt to inbound the basketball.
Regent quickly called a time out and gave itself 18 seconds to produce the winning or tying shot.
“I wish I would have drawn up a better play,” Honeyman said as he watched the game film in his living room on Jan. 25 in Regent.
The Rangers entrusted Sheldon with the final shot.
Sheldon dribbled up the right wing, but found himself bottled up in a three-man Hettinger trap.
An excellent spot-up jump shooter, Sheldon believes he passed up a potential game-winning 3-pointer with about 3 seconds remaining.
“I remember going, ‘I’m going to shoot this,’ and then going, ‘No, I should wait because I don’t want to shoot too soon,’” Sheldon said. “I kind of dribbled myself into a frenzy and all of a sudden, I realized I was running out of time.”
With the clock winding down, he turned to the basket and hoisted a shot that fell short.
Had the shot gone, it wouldn’t have counted. Glasser whistled Sheldon for traveling.
“I, for one split second thought, I’m shooting three free throws,” Sheldon said. “I looked at Steve, he looked at me and started giving me a travel sign. All of a sudden, it hit me that everything we’d done ended in me traveling, and it hurt.
“It was a tough way for it to end, with the ball in my hands, making the turnover.”
The game’s legacy
The events of that night 20 years ago in Bowman will never be duplicated in North Dakota high school basketball thanks to the introduction of the shot clock at all levels, as well as other rule changes aimed at keeping the game moving.
However, “The 4-to-2 Game,” as it is remembered in the state, continues to resonate.
In the days that followed, The Associated Press picked up the story and it soon made national and international news.
Many recall the game being mentioned on ESPN’s SportsCenter. The network even called Butterfield to request his game film.
“The next day, my uncle was in Japan on a business trip,” Earsley said. “He called my parents and said, ‘What is going on? I saw it on TV.’”
Hettinger went on to reach the district championship game, where it lost to Reeder.
Regent, meanwhile, won its next three games — averaging 63 points per game — and took third place.
“The rest of the teams were going to have no part of it,” Honeyman said with a smile. “They came out and picked us up.”
Despite finishing its season on a three-game win streak, the Rangers didn’t qualify for the Region 8 tournament because of Class B’s three-district regions and power-point rules that were in place at the time.
“Who knows what would have happened if we would have gained a regional berth,” Honeyman said. “People would have been scared to play us. … We were hot.”
Sheldon and Kudrna said they’re often asked to tell the story of the game at social gatherings. Earsley said he recently used it as a secret fact about himself in an office contest.
“I had people come to my desk and say, ‘You’re kidding, right?’” Earsley said.
Today, neither team exists as it did 20 years ago.
Regent played just four more seasons as the Rangers before forming New England-Regent for four seasons. In 2000, Regent joined Mott in an athletic co-op and formed the Mott-Regent school district the following year.
Hettinger is in the first season of a co-op with neighboring Scranton.
Honeyman retired from coaching in 2005 after spending his final two seasons coaching his daughter, Kelsey, and the Mott-Regent girls basketball team. Butterfield hung up his whistle after one final season as Hettinger’s girls coach in 2011.
Though the times and the teams may have changed, Kudrna knows he, his Regent teammates and their Hettinger counterparts are forever part of a special story that will never be forgotten in their communities.
“For whatever reason, when I was going back out to the bus — we were the last game of the night — they still had the score on the scoreboard, 4 to 2,” Kudrna said. “I paused, I sat down on the bleacher and I just kind of looked at that for a second. That’s when I thought, something weird happened tonight. This is going to be around for a long time.”