BILLINGS — The opening round of the State B boys basketball tournament is under way at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark in Billings. Manhattan won the opening game of the day to move to Thursday's semifinals where the Tigers will meet Thompson Falls. The Bluehawks blew out Shelby in the first round.
Defending co-champion Lodge Grass also punched its ticket to the semifinals with a come-from-behind victory over Florence. That sets up a rematch of last week's Southern B divisional semifinal with Huntley Project as the Red Devils topped Fairfield in the final boys game on Wednesday.
Manhattan 53, Deer Lodge 39
Manhattan out-scored Deer Lodge 21-10 to pull away from Deer Lodge for a 53-39 win in the opening round of the State B boys basketball tournament on Wednesday inside First Interstate Arena at MetraPark in Billings to advance to Thursday night's semifinals.
The Tigers, the Southern B champions, led 20-14 at halftime but back-to-back 3-pointers by Finn Tesoro and Caden Holgate stretched the lead to 12 in the third quarter. After a Deer Lodge free throw, Tesoro hit another triple followed by a Corban Johnson bucket and Tate Bowler free throws to take a 33-15 lead with 4:17 left in the third quarter.
That lead stretched to 41-18 less than 90 seconds later, as the Tigers were able to turn over the Western B runner-up Wardens for a few easy transition buckets.
"They were slowing it down on us and trying to keep the game low-scoring, so we came out in the third quarter and picked up the defensive pace and pressed them, we got some turnovers and that's kind of what helped our offense out," Manhattan head coach Wes Kragt said.
Manhattan was lights out shooting the ball on Wednesday morning, shooting 21 of 32 from the floor, including 15 of 19 inside the arc. The Tigers also hit six of 13 3-pointers, led by Tesoro's four triples.
"I think it's nice that this is now our fourth game in the Metra. It's always a tough place to shoot," Kragt said. "We haven't been shooting the percentage we normally shoot during the year, so it was good for our kids to get some kickouts and see some shots knocked down."
Tesoro led all scorers with 17 points. Caden Holgate added 12 for the Tigers. Aidan Thompson had 11 for Deer Lodge and Ozzie King added 10.
Manhattan will face the winner of Wednesday morning's meeting between Shelby and Thompson Falls in the semifinals on Thursday.
Thompson Falls 70, Shelby 34
Thompson Falls is headed to Thursday night’s semifinal round.
The Bluehawks trailed early, 8-7, but an 8-0 run toward the end of the first quarter sparked a monster second quarter, as Thompson Falls out-scored Shelby 24-7 to close out the half and take a 39-20 lead into the break.
Thompson Falls would hold off Shelby in the second half for a 70-34 win.
“We're just a team full of shooters, honestly. We just felt confident. We didn't come playing with fear. That's one thing our coach was telling us," Thompson Falls senior Dante Micheli said. "We're in the big stadium now. We haven't been to state for 15 years, 16 years, so we're trying to do something. We're playing with no fear."
The Bluehawks were on fire from downtown, hitting seven first-half 3-pointers. That hot shooting would carry into the second half, too, as Kade Pardee buried a long triple at the third-quarter buzzer to put the Bluehawks up 21, 48-27.
Shelby had trimmed it to 41-27, but Thompson Falls ripped off a 27-1 run spanning the third and fourth quarters to open up a 40-point lead, 68-28. The Bluehawks hit 9 of 22 from beyond the arc and shot 54.3% from the field for the game.
Defensively the Bluehawks were impressive. They held Shelby's two-headed monster of Logan Leck and Rhett Reynolds to 24 points on a combined 9-of-24 shooting.
“Our coach watches a lot of film, so he came in with a really good game plan," Micheli said. "We just followed it to a tee. We're a very good defensive team. Defense and rebounds, that's what we focus on, because that's what leads to our offense. That's also why we shot so well. Just playing defense is honestly the key, and we just did that because that's something we practice all year."
Micheli had game-highs of 23 points and eight rebounds for Thompson Falls. Kade Pardee added 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting, including a circus reverse layup to spark Thompson Falls' 27-1 spurt.
Thompson Falls will meet Southern B champion Manhattan in Thursday night's semifinals with a shot to play for a state title.
"None of us have been in this arena. We've got some old wrestlers that have been here," Micheli said. "We're looking forward to it. I'm just ready to go get the next one. I'm not focused on celebrating, I'm just focused on that big game."
Lodge Grass 62, Florence 50
Lodge Grass is back in the semifinals.
The Indians came from behind in the second half to knock off Western B champion Florence 62-50 in the first round of the Class B boys basketball state tournament.
The Indians fell behind 38-31 midway through the third quarter after a Florence 3-pointer. The Falcons called a timeout after the make, during which Lodge Grass head coach Josh Stewart implored his team to fight and play with heart. From that point, the Indians outscored Florence 31-12.
"They totally responded. ... They kept their hearts, they kept their heads. I think a lot of teams could be rattled in that situation. They feel the momentum shift and they don't want to let it go. I'm proud of my guys," Lodge Grass head coach Josh Stewart said. "My guys have endured hardship, had a lot of loss, not only in COVID but before COVID. We've had some hardship, but they never let anything stop them. They've had these dreams since they were little. They've worked hard. They've stayed drug and alcohol free. Most of those kids are honor roll students, perfect-attendance kids."
The Indians also had a decisive advantage on the glass, most of which came during their big second-half run. Lodge Grass out-rebounded Florence 45-28 and had two players with double-doubles. Damon Gros Ventre had 20 points and 11 rebounds and Jadence Archita had 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Lodge Grass was able to get it done without junior Ty Moccasin, who injured his left foot against Huntley Project in last weekend's Southern B semifinals. Even without one of their emotional leaders, the Indians were able to get a spark.
"Dayvion White came in with so much energy, and that's exactly what we needed," Stewart said. "Hats off to (White), man. He's just a workhorse. At practice he always goes the extra mile, and that showed (Wednesday). He just said, 'I got you, coach, I got you.'"
Lodge Grass will see a familiar team in the semifinals. The Indians have seen Huntley Project three times this season, with the Red Devils owning a 2-1 advantage.
"Only the good teams are left. We have to play our best basketball. We haven't been playing our best basketball all year, but we're starting to see glimpses of that," Stewart said. "I think we're peaking at the right time. We just have to go out there and play what we know and how we play."
Huntley Project 60, Fairfield 52
Huntley Project has set up a rematch with Lodge Grass in the semifinals.
The Red Devils used a 10-0 spurt at the end of the third quarter, ignited by a two-handed flush by Noah Bouchard and capped by a 3-point buzzer-beater by Bouchard, to separate from Fairfield for a 60-52 win in the opening round of the State B boys basketball tournament inside First Interstate Arena at MetraPark. Project outscored Fairfield 18-5 in the third quarter.
"They were taking the game to us and they were being more physical, and our challenge to them was, let's be the more physical team," Project head coach Mark Branger said of his halftime adjustments. "In high school dunks just (swing the momentum). Our crowd goes crazy. His teammates love it when he can dunk. I think it really does motivate them. It gives them that additional energy when sometimes they're a little tired, then they see that dunk and that burst of energy comes right on back."
That run wasn't enough to put Fairfield away, though. The Eagles rallied back to trim the deficit to four, 48-44, but Project stayed the course. A three-point play by senior Tim Rose with just 45.1 seconds left gave Project a 59-50 lead and served as the proverbial dagger.
"To be able to face that type of adversity when things could have gone south pretty quick, the composure and belief in each other and our system we have implemented -- in those timeouts they locked in. I think it's that belief that, 'OK, yes. We can do this,'" Branger said. "Our seniors have been great leaders. They've never been to state, but they've been in enough big games. It's a trust process. We've been working on trusting each other and trusting the system and (Wednesday) they did."
Bouchard led Project with 19 points, while Jake Fox had a 16-point, 12-rebound double-double. Rose added 12 points for the Red Devils. Gavin Mills led Fairfield with 14 points.
Project is set to face Lodge Grass on Thursday for a spot in the state championship game just a week after beating the Indians 75-60 in the Southern B semifinals.
"Their team is like our brothers. (Lodge Grass head coach) Josh (Stewart) is like my brother. With the loss of my wife at the end of January, Josh was one of the first ones to reach out. Josh, their team and their community was so extremely supportive. I'm going to be forever grateful for what they have done," Branger said. "It's going to be a great, competitive game. It's sad we're not meeting Saturday night, but it'll be good."