Digger men top Hawks to open tournament

By Bruce Sayler 

 Coach Adam Hiatt’s favorite stat from Montana Tech’s 63-51 men’s basketball victory Thursday lay in the 3-point shooting of Dickinson State. The first half saw the Blue Hawks make 33 percent of their trey attempts. The second half was a goosegg, zero, zilch, a percentage of none. (Stats)

“We did a really good job of adjusting our defense in the second half,” he said, smiling in the hallway outside the locker rooms at Montana Tech’s HPER Complex, site of the non-conference victory. “I’m really happy with the guys. We identified what was hurting us in the first half – which, of course, was (the Blue Hawks’ 3-point shooting and then we defended it well.” 

The game was Montana Tech’s first one at home this season and was part of the Montana Tech Tip-Off event being held through Friday.

The Orediggers had a leg up toward winning at halftime with a 39-32 gap. They displayed showstopping talent in the first half with dunks, fast breaks, long-range shooting and beyond-the-charts overall athleticism. Tightening up the defense assured the victory. 

“Ugly win,” Hiatt described with a laugh. “I love it. I love ugly wins. They’re great wins.” 

With Montana Tech returning star Sindou Diallo scoring 17 points in a variety of ways and Montana State transfer Caleb Bellach, son of Oredigger Hall of Famer Jeff Bellach, tallying 13 points, nine on 3-pointers, the team gave a scary glimpse for Frontier Conference rivals at the nearing future. 

“We have some really good athletes and when we learn to play defense, and play as a team, we will be a good team,” Hiatt said. “The challenge for athletically talented teams early in the season is understanding the advantages of playing as a team. We will figure that out.” 

Dickinson State got a good look at it Thursday. Derek Selvig, until taking the reins of the Blue Hawks two years ago, was Hiatt’s assistant at Montana Tech. He beat his former boss in their season-opener of 2020. It didn’t happen in the return match. 

The teams traded shots, some from very long distances, the first five minutes of the game while the Orediggers grabbed a 16-13 lead. Derrius Collins’ 3-pointer was the fourth by Montana Tech in those five minutes, but the first one not canned by Bellach. The Blue Hawks drained three treys of their own in the time frame with Ajdin Toskic burying two. Trey Hladky and Cobe Begger knocked down consecutive 3-points and Dickinson State had a 19-16 edge with 14 minutes left in the first half. 

Montana Tech caught up and went ahead on a 6-2 run, got caught in one more tie and then broke it as Bellach hit from 10 feet. Diallo added punctuation with a steal-and-dunk play followed by a 3-pointer. The Orediggers led the rest of the game. 

A 9-2 spurt to open the second half allowed Montana Tech a 48-34 command. Collins tallied the first points on a rebound basket, and, after a stuff by Blue Hawk Jalon Tinnin, Taylor England, 6-foot-7 and sturdy, hit a free throw for the Orediggers. England was an immovable force in the paint all game in a defensive effort that made Dickinson State even quit trying to go inside. 

England’s three throw fronted a fast-break stuff by Diallo off a pass from Drew Huse. Michael Ure came off the bench for Montana Tech and pushed through a driving basket before Diallo finished the surge with a driving layup. 

Dickinson State cut the margin to 10 points, 50-40, after a turnaround shot by Tinnin with 11 minutes, 46 seconds left in the game, and again at 58-48 when Bryce Knox scored four straight points. He drove the hoop for the first two, then sank two free throws on his team’s next possession. 

Only 4:38 remained and Montana Tech was in control, especially after Cody Baumstarck converted a three-point play and Diallo stuffed in yet another jam.  

“We’re trying to concentrate on the defensive end of the game,” Hiatt said. “At first, in this game, we came out and went shot-for-shot with team. We’d hit a shot, then they’d come down and take a shot. Then, we noticed that seven minutes into the game, they had 21 points. We decided we’d better concentrate on the defensive end.” 

As a result, Dickinson State scored only 11 more points the last 13 minutes of the half and was held to 19 points over all of the second half. 

“Bryce Knox is a very good player for them and our guys did a really good job on him,” Hiatt said. 

Knox, a 6-4 guard, was held to four points, including iced out at 0-for-5 from 3-point range. 

The win was Montana Tech’s second in three games this season. Baumstarck finished with nine points, and England stacked seven points, eight rebounds and two blocks in a punch-the-time-clock performance. Collins also had seven points and Huse had six. Ure and Camdyn LaRance put in two points each, and Christian Jones and Bridger Larson both also played. The Orediggers will play Walla Walla at noon on Friday in the HPER Complex as the Montana Tech Tip-Off continues a second day. 

Dickinson State will play Montana Western in the Tip-Off’s Friday 4 p.m. game in the HPER Complex. The Thursday loss put the Blue Hawks’ season record at 0-4. Their leaders in Thursday’s game were Aushanti Potts-Woods with 11 points and Tinnin with eight. Josiah Haaland pulled down a game-high nine rebounds.