BILLINGS — The Hardin boys basketball team earned a 63-56 win over rival Lodge Grass on Wednesday at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark.
The Bulldogs (2-0), who are No. 2 in the 406mtsports.com Class A rankings, trailed 11-9 after one quarter but went ahead 31-26 at halftime and kept the Indians (2-1), who are No. 2 in Class B, at arm’s length in the second half.
Lodge Grass junior Damon Gros Ventre scored a game-high 23 points and passed 1,000 career points in the second quarter. The game stopped for a brief ceremony after Gros Ventre made a layup to reach 1,000. The public address announcer told the crowd about Gros Ventre's accomplishment, Indians coach Josh Stewart presented Gros Ventre with a commemorative basketball and Gros Ventre posed for photos.
"It was one of my goals when I was young growing up," Gros Ventre said. "Finally reaching that milestone feels good."
The Lodge Grass boys career record is 1,984 points, set by late legend Elvis Old Bull in 1990. Gros Ventre is related to Old Bull — his grandfather was Old Bull's brother.
"Chasing the legend," Gros Ventre. "It's something you look forward to."
Gros Ventre is 968 points away from Old Bull's record. With good health, he would need to average around 20 points per game the next two seasons to surpass "The King."
"If I get there, yeah, it would be good," Gros Ventre said. "But the main goal is in March."
Lodge Grass shared the State B title with Fairfield last season after the final day of every state tournament was canceled on Friday, March 13 because of COVID-19. It was the Indians' first state championship since 1990, when led by Old Bull they capped off a three-peat.
Hardin was also a co-state champion last season, and Metra hosted the State A tournament. Entering the arena Wednesday was “a bittersweet moment” for Hardin coach Andrew Round Face, he said after the game.
“It took me all the way back to that Friday night,” Round Face said through a mask. “At least seeing some fans in here made it feel a little bit normal out of everything that hasn’t been normal, so it felt good. I was kind of glad to be back.”
The Bulldogs graduated most of their best players but showed Wednesday that there is barely any distinction between rebuilding and reloading at Hardin.
“I was kind of using this game as a measuring stick because I know Lodge Grass is going to be right back on top again," Round Face said. “You have to respect Damon. He’s a tremendous talent. You never know what he can go off for. But I knew if we locked down on defense on everybody else, we’d be alright.”
Kevion Ladson led Hardin with 20 points, and fellow juniors Bryson Rogers and Hance Three Irons each scored 11. Ladson, like Old Bull and 2020 Hardin graduate Famous Lefthand, wears No. 52.
Lodge Grass doesn't allow any fans at its home games. Hardin permits four spectators per varsity Hardin player, two per JV player and two per road player. Lodge Grass is on the Crow reservation, while Hardin is just north of the border.
On Wednesday, 2,900 tickets were available for both Hardin-Lodge Grass basketball games (the girls played before the boys). Every other row in the arena's lower bowl was taped off to enforce physical distancing, and spectators were asked to wear masks, although many did not. First Interstate Arena’s basketball capacity is 10,500.
“When we normally play at our house, at our gym, it’s usually sold out by the time the girls’ first quarter is done with. There’s no room, we’ve got the fans on blowing in cold air and you know the fans are right behind you," Round Face said. "It’s way different now. But I am more used to that kind of (quieter) setting here at the Metra.”
Before Wednesday, Stewart posted on social media that he recognized the potential COVID risks of Wednesday’s games and urged fans to be careful.
“We just wanted them to maintain social distancing and understand that, hey, we’re fortunate that they even approved this thing. It’s scary because we’ve all had heavy loss in all of our families,” Stewart said. “We just pray for all of our fans everywhere and wanted to make sure that they (understood they) were in a special situation but a very risky one.
“My prayer is that no positives comes from this, no one gets the virus, and that our communities not only stay safe but enjoy good basketball.”
Hardin and Lodge Grass will face each other again at the Metra on Jan. 30.