BILLINGS — Manhattan will play for its second state championship in four months, as the Tigers won an overtime thriller over Thompson Falls, 60-55, on Thursday. The Tigers get defending-champion Lodge Grass, which topped Huntley Project 66-49, in an all-Southern B title game.
Manhattan 60, Thompson Falls 55 (OT)
Manhattan will have a chance to take home its second state championship trophy in four months.
The Tigers escaped with a 60-55 overtime victory over Thompson Falls in Thursday night’s semifinals of the State B boys basketball tournament inside First Interstate Arena at MetraPark in Billings.
Trailing 44-42 late in regulation, Manhattan’s Tate Bowler buried a deep 3-pointer to give Manhattan a one-point lead with 2:12 to play. Caden Holgate knocked down a pair of free throws shortly after to push the Tigers’ advantage to three, 47-44.
But with 55 seconds remaining, Thompson Falls’ Kade Pardee hit a triple to tie things up at 47. A Bowler attempt at the buzzer clanged off the iron to send the two sides to an extra period.
Manhattan won the tip and took nearly 90 seconds off the clock before Wyatt Jones hit a 3-pointer to give the Tigers another lead. Jones then hit two free throws to put Manhattan up five and Thompson Falls never got closer.
“We were trying to spread them out and look to attack the basket or get something off a kickout. (Jones) went in there and he got a wide-open shot, stepped right into it and drained it. It was a big shot for us," Manhattan coach Wes Kragt said. "(Jones) has been playing really good this tournament. He's a guy that we put in and can space the floor for us. He knows that if he gets an open look to step right into it and take the shot. We're confident in him to make that shot."
"I just know that he has the confidence to put me in, that I can come out here and hit big shots like (Thursday). I can just get the job done for him if he needs me," Jones said. "Everything just kind of went blank. I didn't really hear anything. It went off my hand and just felt good. Here we are going to the state chipper."
Manhattan jumped out to a 15-5 lead behind hot 3-point shooting, but Thompson Falls settled in and caught fire itself in the second quarter. The Bluehawks hit five first-half 3s, three of which came from Roman Sparks to eventually take the lead. Manhattan would regain the advantage just before the break to lead 29-28 at halftime.
“They were on fire the first half," Kragt said. "We knew they couldn't continue to do that. They hit some tough shots early, so we had the same defensive mentality going out in the second half. We just have athletes on our team. We'll go man up on you and we just work our tails off."
"We live for big moments. We don't get down, we're always up. I think that's what makes us a good team," Bowler said.
Bowler stepped up when Manhattan needed it in the third quarter. As the teams grinded through possessions, Bowler was able to beat his man off the bounce several times, scoring nine of his 20 points in the frame.
“We knew going in that most teams put their best defender on Caden (Holgate), so (Bowler) was going to have a matchup in this game," Kragt said. "He just has the speed and he has a nice pull-up jumper on him. He came up big in the second half and hit some big shots to give us a lead in that game."
"Everything kind of clicked. The team worked together. It was just an all-around team performance," Bowler said.
Bowler's 20 points were a game high. Holgate added 16 for Manhattan. Kade Pardee had a 17-point, 11-rebound double-double for Thompson Falls.
Manhattan will play in its first state championship since 2012 on Saturday night. The Tigers fell to Malta to finish second. Manhattan last won a state title in 1973.
"This is a dream. It feels like I'm in a dream. It's unbelievable," Bowler said. "We've still got one more game ahead of us, and we're just going to focus on that for now."
It's guaranteed to be an all-Southern B title game, as Lodge Grass and Huntley Project will play for the right to face the Tigers on Saturday night.
Lodge Grass 67, Huntley Project 49
'Unfinished business.' That's been the motto for Lodge Grass all season after the 2020 State B tournament was cut short. Saturday night the Indians will get a chance to put the stamp on a second consecutive State B title.
Lodge Grass sprinted out of the gates and held off Huntley Project for a 67-49 win in the semifinals of the State B boys basketball tournament inside First Interstate Arena at MetraPark.
"First off, we say to God be the glory. And a lot of credit to Huntley Project. They're always tough. They're one of the reasons why we're getting there, because they sharpened us," Lodge Grass head coach Josh Stewart said. "We happened to play the better game (Thursday). I'm proud of all Huntley's boys, they're hard workers. They gave their all. I'm more proud of all my boys, because they just work so hard. There were probably days where they wondered what these practices were about, because they might have been extreme or something. They leveled up. They went the extra mile. They learned to fall in love with the hard work. Right now they know the job's not finished. They're going to be happy for an hour, get over it, then prepare."
"Right now it's just shared joy," Lodge Grass junior Jadence Archita said. "All our credit goes to God, because we're a God-serving team. It's just shared joy right now and I love the feeling."
The Indians jumped to a 21-12 lead after the first quarter and led 32-22 at halftime behind a strong opening half from junior Damon Gros Ventre, who scored 13 of his 16 points in the first 16 minutes. Lodge Grass pushed its lead to 21, 44-23, midway through the third quarter before Project began to make a run.
The Red Devils cut it back down to 12 late in the third quarter, but Lodge Grass fed its big man Archita down the stretch as he controlled the paint on both ends of the floor. Archita finished with 21 points and nine rebounds.
"If we're going to go down, we're going to go down fighting. We're not just going to get ran over. We're here to make a statement. We're not just going to be walked through, we're going to be a force to play against," Huntley Project senior Noah Bouchard said. "I think we move on and we just see the bigger picture now and realize our biggest goal now is third. We said at the beginning of the year, 'Let's get first.' Just to get hardware with this team, this group of guys, it's something we never really dreamed of."
Ty Moccasin made his return for Lodge Grass after injuring his left ankle in the Southern B semifinals against Huntley Project last weekend. Moccasin played just over 15 minutes and only finished with two points, but his impact extended far beyond the box score.
"It was huge. Huge. He brings so much energy, he's lively, he's all about the team," Stewart said. "I said, 'Ty, how are you feeling? Are you ready to start?' He said, 'No coach. I'll come off the bench and we'll go minute by minute.' Love that. He's like, 'I trust Kendall (Russell).' (Russell) came out and played great. Applied some good pressure, hit some open shots, hit some 3-pointers, got a few layups and got a few boards down with the big dogs and some putbacks. Being the little guy, I think that just shows the heart he has. It was great having (Moccasin) to help build that energy with the boys."
"It was big, man. About six days it took to get that ankle where we needed to get him into the game. With his passes and vision to get us open, it was good to get him back," said Archita.
Project struggled from the field, shooting under 40% and making just 1 of 18 attempts from beyond the arc. Lodge Grass also out-rebounded the Red Devils 39-27, as three Indians finished with at least seven rebounds.
Archita's 21 points were a team high, while Bouchard led all scorers with 25 points. Gros Ventre added seven rebounds and six assists to his 16 points.
"(Archita) has those battles maybe a lot of people would fold in, but he fights through and it showed on the court," Stewart said. "He told me he was going to play defense and get every rebound, but he came out and got rewarded for it. He said, 'I need you guys to feed me, because I can take this guy.' He just felt it. And he did. He took a good, tall, solid defender in (Jake) Fox and he was just feeling great, confidence was up and just did his job well."
"I've done it before and in big times like this I don't settle for less. I'm going to take every advantage I have and give it my all," Archita said.
Manhattan awaits the Indians in Saturday's title game and is looking to claim both the state football and basketball titles for Class B.
"Respect everyone, but fear no one. That's the mindset," Stewart said. "We'll watch some film, have a study session, some prayer, relaxation, then some good solid preparation and we'll be ready."
"You're not going to believe it. We're going to come out strong," Archita said. "We're going to show Manhattan that we're all business because that's what we came to do. Nothing was handed to us growing up and this is what we live for."