BOZEMAN – Hardin led by as many as 21 points in the first half on its way to a first-round win over Butte Central, 62-51, at the Class A boys basketball state tournament in Bozeman on Thursday. The Bulldogs move on to Friday night’s semifinal with the win.
Hardin used a 13-0 run in the first quarter to build a 19-point lead after the first frame, which was capped by Famous Lefthand burying a 30-footer as time expired in the first quarter to bring the Bulldogs’ faithful to their feet.
The Maroons kept their composure early, forcing a bevy of turnovers and cutting the lead to nine in the second quarter. However, another Lefthand buzzer-beater pushed the Bulldogs’ lead to 11 at the break. Lefthand had 15 points in the first half on a perfect 6-for-6 from the field.
The defensive effort ramped up in the second half for the Bulldogs. They extended their lead to 17 in the third quarter with hounding pressure on the Maroons that led to turnovers and easy transition baskets. The Maroons got within nine in the fourth quarter, but the result was never in question.
Lefthand ended up with 24 points for Hardin, while David Evans had 10 points and a monster two-handed jam in the fourth quarter to put the exclamation point on the Bulldogs’ victory. Cade Holter led Butte Central with 24 points.
Hardin will face Lewistown, who led wire-to-wire in the semifinals on Friday against Frenchtown.
Lewistown 60, Frenchtown 40
Lewistown led 18-1 before Frenchtown got its first field goal of the game to fall, coming at the 6:30 mark in the second quarter. Lewistown pushed its lead to 19 at halftime, thanks to 14 first-half points from junior Jaden Graham.
“It was huge for us to get a good start,” Lewistown head coach Scott Sparks said after the win. “We knew they were a really athletic team, so we wanted to make sure we took care of things on the boards, played really good defense. I think we did a really good job containing them to the point total they had. Offensively, we made them play defense. I thought we did a great job of running our offense and got a lot of great opportunities early, and a lot of different guys contributed.”
Lewistown was completely dominant on the glass, racking up offensive rebounds and second chance points with ease. The Eagles held a 38-15 rebound advantage and scored 13 second chance points.
Frenchtown could not get closer than within 15 in the second half, as Lewistown kept the defensive pressure on. The Broncs shot just 35 percent from the floor, while Lewistown shot 58 percent.
Lewistown big man Tanner Trafton got in foul trouble early in the first half, but Graham was able to put the team on his back to keep Frenchtown at bay.
Graham had a game-high 26 points on 10-for-14 shooting, while also grabbing five rebounds. Jake Clinton had a big performance for the Eagles with 15 points and eight rebounds.
“It seems like when Jaden gets rolling, the other guys feed off of him, and (Thursday) Jaden showed up with a big time effort. Tanner got in foul trouble early, so he had to carry us for a stretch in the first half, and I’m proud of the way he played,” Sparks said.
Lewistown and Hardin will square off at 6:30 p.m. on Friday for a berth in the Class A boys state championship game.
“We know that they’re a really, really good team,” Sparks said of Hardin. “We’ve just got to make sure we get out on their shooters, contain penetration, communicate on defense, and then we’ve got to handle their press. Well-coached team, great kids, and we’re looking forward to that opportunity.”