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Poplar Qualifies For State With Second-Place Showing At Divisional

The Poplar Indians earned a state berth during the divisional boys’ basketball tournament held in Malta during the weekend. The Indians placed second after dropping a tough title game against Fairview, 54-52, on Saturday night.

“I think we’re pretty satisfied,” Poplar Coach Gibb Medicine Cloud said. “Fairview is a very well rounded team and well coached.”

Considering that Malta, the top-seeded team, didn’t advance to the state tournament, Poplar is excited about the chance to play at the state tournament. It will be Poplar’s first state tournament appearance since 2019.

“It’s wild because Malta was the host and is staying home,” Medicine Cloud said. “I still think that we’re not peaking yet.”

The coach feels that a key for the Indians for doing well at the divisional tournament was their ability to play a number of different defenses. Another important factor was everybody understand their roles, including the reserves who make practices tough for the top players.

“I think that’s what got us here,” Medicine Cloud said of players embracing their roles. “We have a team atmosphere as a family.”

The Indians trailed for most of the divisional championship game and by a 4137 margin entering the final period. A three-pointer by Geordy Medicine Cloud pulled Poplar to 45-42 with 5:12 left, but Fairview then scored six straight points on baskets by Jeff Tjelde, Tyler Loan and Wyatt McPherson.

The scoring of Delray Lilley and Kaniel Ricker led the Indians back to 53-48. After a steal by Lilley, Kameron Reum hit a shot to cut the margin to 53-50 with 39 seconds remaining. Poplar had a chance to tie the game but was called for an offensive foul with only 11 seconds left. A free throw by Tjelde put the margin at four points with 10 seconds remaining.

Poplar’s top scorers were Medicine Cloud with 17, Lilley with 15 and Walker Bushia with nine points. Also scoring were Reum with six, Ricker with three and Blake Lambert with two points.

Landon Thompson and Tjelde each scored 18 points for the Warriors.

Fairview jumped out to a 19-11 lead in the opening quarter as Thompson scored nine points in the period. Tjelde’s three-point attempt went off the backboard and in the basket to end the quarter.

Fairview put together a 6-0 run late in the second quarter to gain a 31-22 half-time advantage.

Poplar responded with five of the first seven points of the third quarter with Medicine Cloud and Lilley leading the attack. A drive by Reum and three free throws by Lilley closed the gap to 38-35.

Thompson hit three free throws late in the period to put Fairview up by a 41-37 margin.

The Class B state tournament starts Thursday, March 7, in Billings. The Indians will play at 8 p.m. against the second-place team from the Southern B. The Southern B has its divisional tournament this weekend. Top teams include Columbus, Red Lodge, St. Labre and Lodge Grass.

“It’s big for us to get a week off and regroup,” Medicine Cloud said. “We will probably install a new defense. It’s anybody’s game come tournament time.”

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