BILLINGS – Toward the end of the first half, as his fan base roiled behind him in support of his team, Lodge Grass basketball coach Gordon Real Bird Jr. was a picture of calm, kicking back in his chair at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark.
He was measured after the game, too, but the final 2 ½ minutes of the Indians’ 70-63 Southern B Divisional semifinal win over Big Timber on Friday night got Real Bird’s heart going a little bit.
So does the thought of returning to the Class B state tournament, which the Indians will do, regardless of how Saturday night’s championship game turns out. It’s been a while, Real Bird said, since Lodge Grass has made consecutive appearances at state.
“This is the first time in about 20 years that Lodge Grass has been back twice,” he said. “And so, with our experience (last year), we’re believers.”
Ethan Dust scored 20 points and had 10 rebounds — his second double-double in as many tournament games — and Elijah Rogers added 19 points and five assists to help the Indians hold off the Herders.
Lodge Grass led by 15 with 5:10 left in the game, but Big Timber eventually whittled that down to a three-point deficit with a minute to go. The Indians, though, made 6 of 7 free throws to seal the game.
Kell Schwers had 19 points to lead Big Timber, which will play Colstrip in a 9 a.m. loser-out game on Saturday. The winner gets a state berth and a chance to earn third place at the divisional.
As for Real Bird, he’s looking forward to Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. championship against Three Forks.
“Let’s play to 100,” he said, smiling. “I’m excited.”
Three Forks 54, Roundup 46
Two things about Payden Lynn. The Three Forks junior responds to nearly everything with ‘Yes, sir,’ and he’s got a tremendous hitch in his shot, be it a 3-pointer or a free throw.
It’s so prevalent it borders on being a double clutch. And it’s noticeable.
“Yes, sir, I don’t know,” he said with a laugh when asked about his shot. “I tried to fix it, but it just felt comfortable when I started out. I’ve had people tell me it’s weird. I’ve got to work on it.”
Hey, if it ain’t broke ….
Lynn scored 14 points — nine in the second half — to help the Wolves beat the Roundup Panthers 54-46 in the first semifinal game.
As the clock wound down to the Wolves’ first trip to state since 2009, the Three Fork bench and coach Terry Hauser began jumping up and down on the Rimrock Auto Arena court sideline. Micaiah Hauser added 13 points and Colter Miller 12 for the Wolves, who will play in Saturday’s divisional championship at 6:30 p.m.
Roundup trailed most of the game, led briefly 30-29 early in the third quarter, and got within 45-43. But the Wolves outscored Roundup 12-3 the rest of the way.
“It’s not that we didn’t expect to be here, it’s just that we haven’t,” Terry Hauser said. “Nobody else expected it, so that’s puts a little doubt in your mind. But I remember telling them the first week of practice, during stretches just to put in in their minds, ‘we’re going to be there, we’re going to be there.’ “
Jayce Griffith scored 13 points to lead four Panthers into double figures.
Roundup drops to Saturday morning’s loser-out game at Rocky Mountain College. The Panthers and Joliet will tip off at 9 a.m., with the winner earning a trip to state.
Joliet 82, St. Labre 69
St. Labre kept sending Taylor Rowlison to the free throw line. So he kept making them.
Rowlison shot 24 for 28 from the line and scored a school-record 46 points overall, helping the Joliet J-Hawks take another step toward a potential state-tournament berth with an 82-69 win over the Braves in a loser-out game.
The Joliet senior shot 21 of his free throws in the second half, and the majority of those in the fourth quarter.
“It was kind of repetitive,” Rowlison said about his trips to the line, “but I like free throws and I like the pressure.”
Rylan Olson, who went 11 for 11 on free throws, added 23 points for the J-Hawks, who will play another loser-out game at 9 a.m. Saturday at Rocky Mountain College. The winner of that game will qualify for the state tournament.
Rowlison said that coming into the divisional eight of the team’s nine losses have come to teams in the tournament field. He said the J-Hawks are looking to keep reversing that trend now that they have a tourney win in hand.
“We knew we were going to see good competition here,” he said. “But we need to keep playing with them because we deserve to be here just as much as anyone.”
Tamerson MedicineBull had 15 points to lead St. Labre.
Colstrip 76, Manhattan 60
Colstrip coach Joe Egan was wondering how his team would respond coming off its first loss of the season. Especially in a tournament win-or-go-home situation, well, you just never know.
Egan got his answer early when Isaiah Williams scored the game’s first eight points and the Colts went on to a 76-50 loser-out win over Manhattan.
In contrast to its opening-round loss to Three Forks, Colstrip was at full strength against Manhattan. Payton Means was back from his one-game suspension, and Joel McRae’s ankle, which he injured Tuesday and kept him out Thursday, was good enough to allow him to play 17 minutes.
“I think it was about remembering who we are and just being who we are,” Egan said. “I think that’s what we did today. We didn’t talk a lot about the Three Forks game, we didn’t stew about it. We just kind of got our people back and tried to go on.”
Williams finished with one of the best lines of the tournament so far: 29 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Kobee BigBack added 11 points and Means had eight points and 12 rebounds.
The Colts play their third straight 9 a.m. game Saturday in another loser-out contest. Win that one, though, and the Colts (20-1) will reach their ultimate goal of qualifying for the state tournament, even if it won’t be as undefeated divisional champs.
Garrett Duncan led Manhattan with 15 points.