BOZEMAN — Billings Central ended Hamilton's perfect season with a 64-37 win over the Broncs on Thursday at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse in the first round of the State A boys basketball tournament.
Chrishon Dixon led the way with 20 points and Sam Gray added 17 as the Rams built a 21-8 lead in the first quarter and never looked back.
"Our guys were locked in on defense tonight. They didn't let too many guys get wide-open looks," Central coach Jim Stergar said. "They've shot the ball pretty darn good just about every game so we needed to create an off night for them. Get hands in their face and rebound and don't give any second-chance points."
Liam Clancy added 10 for Central, six of which came in the first quarter to spark the Rams. Dixon was seemingly driving at will and also shot the ball 11 for 12 from the free throw line while Gray was 8 for 11. The Rams out-rebounded Hamilton 42-33. Carter Kearns led Hamilton with 13 points as the Broncs drop to 23-1 and will take on Belgrade at 2 p.m. on Friday in a loser-out game. Hamilton, one of the better 3-point shooting teams in the state, shot the ball 30 percent from the field and was 4 for 18 from 3-point range.
Central will play Browning at 8 p.m. on Friday in the semifinals.
"It feels great going to the semifinals again, knowing we've done it two years in a row," Dixon said. "We just have to keep it going and keep the momentum going."
Browning 63, Belgrade 54
The Browning Running Indians are heading to the State A semifinals with a 63-54 victory over Belgrade on Thursday at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.
Nathaniel Stiffarm (18), Tyree Whitcomb (25) and Brandon Aimsback (15) combined for 58 of Browning's 63 points as the Running Indians will take on the winner of Billings Central and Hamilton at 8 p.m. on Friday.
"It's great (contributing at state). We've been talking about it all year just to get back to this tournament," Stiffarm said. "We just want to to our best. We've been preparing a lot for it so we just had to come out and play hard."
Stiffarm is a transfer from Billings Senior, where he saw minutes on the varsity team last year as a junior. For him, this is his first time at state at either level. Browning is back for the first time since 2012.
Browning and Belgrade were tied at 10-10 at the end of the first but Browning began to pull away in the second, leading by six at the half thanks to mostly scoring from Stiffarm and Whitcomb. Aimsback really came alive in the second half, and Stiffarm said they knew they could trust their two big men to contribute due to their size advantage. Whenever they needed a clutch basket they pounded the ball down low.
Belgrade got within five points twice in the fourth quarter but that is as close as they got. Easton Page led Belgrade with 16 points while Noel Reynolds scored 15 and Dawson Fowler added 13. The Panthers will play the loser of Central and Hamilton at 2 p.m. on Friday.
"Belgrade is an old conference foe. We were in the same conference (Central A) for 29 years and they moved us out this year, so there was some familiarity there," Browning coach Daniel Connelly said. "I told the boys that we had to control Fowler and the boards and I thought we did that. And my big three stepped up in Aimsback, Whitcomb and Stiffarm. They've been my constants all year and they did it again today."
Lewistown 60, Frenchtown 40
After not making the State A tournament since 2002, Lewistown began this year's with a bang, defeating Frenchtown 60-40 on Thursday at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.
Jaden Graham had 26 points to lead Lewistown and Jake Clinton added 15. Lewistown held Frenchtown to one point in the first quarter and led 27-8 by halftime. Lewistown out-rebounded Frenchtown 38-15 and 16-7 on the offensive glass.
"We practiced our intensity overall. We had to get better defensively and had to be pushing and offensively we had to be playing fast but under control fast," Graham said. "Every practice we hammer rebounding. We have a drill called "NBA" but it's just rebounding and if you don't get a rebound you're running suicides. So we practice that a lot."
Tanner Trafton added a pair 10 points for Lewistown including a pair of dunks in the fourth quarter as the Golden Eagles pulled away. Frenchtown began to head up offensively in the third quarter but a 16-point differential was as close as they got. Jared Cole led the Broncs with 11.
Lewistown will play Hardin at 6:30 p.m. in the semifinals on Friday while Frenchtown will take on Butte Central in a loser-out game at 12:30 p.m.
"We've got great players like Jaden, Tanner, Wes (Jameson), Cody (Henderson) and Landon (Henderson) who step up," Lewistown coach Scott Sparks said. "Jake's always going to get it done for us defensively but today he demonstrated some stuff on offensive that really helped us."
Hardin 62, Butte Central 51
The Hardin Bulldogs used a near-perfect first quarter to set the tone as the Bulldogs defeated Butte Central 62-51 in the opening game of the State A boys basketball tournament.
Sophomore Famous Lefthand led the Bulldogs with 24 points including shooting 4 for 5 from 3-point range. Hardin outscored Butte Central 25-6 in the first quarter, paced by 11 points from Lefthand and six points from senior David Evans. Evans finished with 10 points and Trae Hugs added 11.
"We came out with a lot of energy. We know what's at stake here so we're coming out to play. These boys are ready for their shot and they showed right when they stepped on the court they were ready to go," Hardin coach Andrew Round Face said. "That is the fastest start we've had. If that's a sign of things to come I'm happy with it."
Butte Central trimmed the deficit down to single-digits in the second quarter, outscoring Hardin 14-6. Hardin came out hot again in the third and led by as much as 22 in the fourth quarter. Cade Holter played well for the Maroons, scoring 24 points on 8 for 13 shooting and Dylan Sestrich added nine points. Butte Central shot 33 percent in the first quarter but improved to a 51 percent clip by the end of the game. Hardin as a team shot the ball 55 percent from the field and 60 percent from 3-point range.
"We were moving the ball well and were just trying to board up," Lefthand said. "We weren't doing too well on the boards and we let them get offensive rebounds (in the second quarter). They kind of took control of that but we came back in the second half and got boards."
Hardin will play Lewistown on Friday in the semifinals while Butte Central will take on Frenchtown at 12:30 p.m.