Dawgs overcome slow start, top Orediggers

Montana Western's Demitrius Balark tries to dunk over Montana Tech's Paul Engstrom Thursday night at the HPER Complex. Balark missed the dunk but Engstrom was called for a foul. (Bill Foley photo)

By Bill Foley

Montana Western men’s basketball coach Steve Keller was feeling a little Déjà Vu Thursday night at the HPER Complex.

Montana Tech got off to a terrific start, opening the game with a 10-1 run and holding a double-digit lead much of the first half.

The Orediggers, though, couldn’t complete the upset home victory over the Bulldogs for the second year in a row, as Western battled back for a 79-72 victory. Stats

“They got us here last year, and it was the same thing,” Keller said. “They started out hot.”

Western’s zone defense eventually cooled off the Orediggers, and the Bulldogs did much of their offensive damage from the charity stripe. Western made 30 of 40 attempts from the free throw line.

“We got to the free throw line, that’s what we do,” Keller said. “Our zone kept them from getting to the line enough.”

Montana Tech coach Patrick O’Herron also pointed to the free throw line as a key to Thursday’s game.

“For us, it’s defending,” O’Herron said after his team lost its 11th straight game. “They shot 40 free throws. We’ve got to get better on that end of the floor.”

Quinn Smith had a huge game for the Bulldogs. The 6-foot-10 former Oredigger dropped 18 points and seven boards on his old team. He was one of five Bulldogs in double figures.

“Quinn Smith, he kind of got us going,” Keller said.

Shyke Small, the reigning Frontier Conference Player of the Week, also scored 18 points, while Dexter Williams Jr., who was taunted by a chant of “Dexter, Dexter” by one boisterous Oredigger fan throughout the game, tossed in 17. Demitrius Balark and Connor Woodill each scored 12

Paul Engstrom put on an inspirational performance for the Orediggers. The Tech big man tossed in 15 points to go along with 16 rebounds.

True freshman Lucas Vining scored a team-leading 16 points. Cruz Gins Jr. joined Engstrom with 15 points, while Jalen Coates scored 10.

The Orediggers also got eight points from Akeem Williams, six from Flemming Okeke and two from Sadiq Inuwa.

“They’ve got some players,” Keller said. “They’ve got some athletes. They’re going to beat some people in our league.”

O’Herron said the Orediggers are making progress, despite the losing streak.

“I was happy how we played,” O’Herron said. “We haven’t been at home in over a month, so it was fun to get a home game, finally. The guys were excited, and we’ve been having good practices. You wouldn’t know that we’ve lost 11 in a row.”

The coach said the Oredigger talent is obvious. The chemistry is starting to come around, too.

“We’re starting to see some of the maturity and some of the growth,” O’Herron said. “We’re getting it slowly, but we’re getting it.”

The Bulldogs improved to 3-1 in conference and 10-6 overall. They’ll play at Lewis-Clark State on Saturday.

The Orediggers, who fell to 0-4 and 5-11, will play host to Rocky Mountain College on Saturday.



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