BILLINGS — On Jan. 5, Hardin senior Andrew House spent nearly all of the fourth quarter against Billings Central on the bench. A few minutes later, another one of the Hardin boys basketball team’s best players — junior Famous Lefthand — exited the game. Both fouled out.
Many factors contributed to Hardin’s 59-54 loss that night, but the Bulldogs wondered how the game might have played out if House and Lefthand had avoided foul trouble.
They didn’t have to wonder on Saturday night. House and Lefthand played all game and led Hardin, ranked No. 2 in the latest 406mtsports.com Class A poll, to a 75-67 victory over No. 1 Central at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark.
“We were hungry because they beat us last time,” said Hardin coach Andrew Round Face. “We weren’t gonna let that happen again.”
Hardin jumped out to an 18-7 lead with 2:48 to go in the first quarter, but Central finished the period on an 11-3 run and trailed 21-18. The Rams continued their strong play in the second quarter and led 39-38 at halftime.
The pace didn’t wane in the third quarter, and the score was tied 52-52 going into the fourth. Central senior Joe Byorth slammed home a one-handed dunk for the final points of the third.
Neither the dunk nor the Rams’ relentlessness phased the Bulldogs. Lefthand has played 20 games at Metra in his career, he estimated, and many have been more intense with bigger stakes. Just last year, Hardin and Central needed five overtimes to determine their first two matchups.
“When I first played in this gym, I got the jitters really bad. All of my shots weren’t falling,” Lefthand said. “Now, it’s just like another home game.”
The fourth quarter was all Bulldogs (15-1, 9-1), who outscored Central 23-15 in the period. Round Face was happy with his team’s ball movement and its ability to navigate the Rams’ zone defense, especially when they threw traps at his players. The Bulldogs also communicated well on defense, Round Face said, and were able to slow down Central.
“We uncharacteristically turned the ball over,” said Central coach Jim Stergar, who was pleased with the pace of the game. “We didn’t rebound down the stretch like we’re capable of, either. Our guys know we didn’t play well.”
House scored a game-high 18 points, Lefthand had 17, Trae Hugs had 13 and Cayden Redfield added 12. Cade Herriford led Central (13-2, 6-1) with 17 points, Chrishon Dixon had 15, Marcus Wittman had 13 and Sam Gray added 10.
House committed three fouls, and Lefthand finished with one.
“I was telling myself not to get sloppy at there, don’t get frustrated with myself,” House said.
Hardin's only loss of the season was nine games ago to the Rams, who had won nine consecutive games going into Saturday. The win put the Bulldogs in the driver’s seat for the top seed at the divisional tournament.
“It’s still early,” Stergar said. “I’m sure we’ll meet those guys again.”
As Hardin put the game out of reach late in the fourth quarter, some Bulldog fans chanted, “Start the busses.” Saturday’s game was originally scheduled to be played in Hardin, but the schools decided last month to return it to Metra. The Bulldogs’ hour-long bus ride home was much more enjoyable this time around.