By Bruce Sayler
Montana Tech set off a depth charge Friday in a 75-47 college men’s basketball victory over Lewis-Clark State.
The Orediggers showcased their depth, their roster deep in talent and capability, with 11 players scoring points and four in double figures against traditionally one of the better hoops programs on the schedule. The game was part of the Friday-Saturday Montana Tech Fall Classic tourney being played in the Montana Tech HPER Complex.
Undefeated and 18th-ranked in NAIA, Montana Tech never trailed. Baskets by Caleb Bellach and Bridger Larson around a free throw by Michael Ure staked the Orediggers to a 5-0 lead in the first five-and-a-half minutes of the game. Bellach was fed a short-drive opportunity by Chrishon Dixon before Ure, winner of the last two Frontier Conference Player of the Week awards, netted his foul shot. Larson, into the lineup soon off the bench, muscled to the hoop for a layup.
Anthony Peoples Jr. finally got Lewis-Clark State onto the scoreboard with a basket at the 14-minute, 20-second mark of the first half. The Warriors, from Lewiston, Idaho, were Frontier Conference opponents of Montana Tech prior to joining the Cascade Conference in 2020.
Defensive preparation was the reason the Montana Tech’s win looked so easy, head coach Adam Hiatt said.
“They have good personnel,” he said. “They’ll be one of the top two or three teams in their conference. They have certain players who can hurt us from certain spots.”
So, the Orediggers responded in like manner. They took away the favorite spots from each of the Warriors with defensive knowledge and reaction. The defense was tailored to work individually against Lewis-Clark’s offensive threats at their favorite stations.
The rim, the 3-point line, the driving lanes, and so forth, were closed off depending on where the ball was or was going to be.
“I thought we had a thirst for defense tonight,” Hiatt said.
The depth then kept the defensive effort unusually fresh.
“We have a lot of what we call interchangeable parts,” Hiatt said. “They can sub in and have the same level of energy skills set, talent and etcetera. We have so many tall, athletic guys.
“If we have a guy in foul trouble, we can withstand a storm from another team.”
Montana Tech built on its early lead and reached 20-6 after Larson picked a rebound and put it back through the hoop and Dixon gunned in a 3-point shot. Kai Warren answered with a 3-pointer for L-C State, then the Orediggers took off on a 7-0 run, four of them by Bellach.
The 6-foot-7 Bellach is the only returnee from last year’s starting lineup and was an All-Conference choice after transferring from Montana State.
The Montana Tech lead was 38-20 at halftime.
The Warriors launched a short run at the Orediggers to begin the second half. Oreon Courtney wrapped a short jumper and a hook shot around Keegan Crosby’s pullup jumper in a 6-0 Lewis-Clark State run.
The Orediggers blunted it with back-to-back 3-pointers by Ure on the way to a 16-4 spree that opened a 54-30 spree with 13:49 left on the clock. Montana Tech substituted freely and cruised through the remainder of the game.
“We have a lot of guys who can play,” Hiatt said, adding that ball movement is the engine for the Orediggers’ offense. “We have a term – ‘sticky.’ If the ball gets sticky we’re not very good. It’s sticking in hands too long. Our guys share the ball well, quick passes.”
Larson finished with a game-high 12 points. Asa Williams scored 11, and Bellach and Keeley Bake each tallied 10 to lead the Montana Tech attack. Dixon and Ure had nine points apiece, Hayden Diekhans tallied six, and Levi Torgerson, Camdyn LaRance, Emani Scott and Bridger Deden each scored two. Diekhans, a 6-6 freshman out of Fort Benton High School, pulled down 10 rebounds, Williams dished three assists and LaRance came up with four steals.
Montana Tech will take a 5-0 record into Saturday’s 3 p.m. game against Dickinson State, a team the Orediggers beat 76-68 last Saturday in Dillon. Former Hiatt Montana Tech assistant Derek Selvig serves as Dickinson State head coach.
Silas Bennion and Peoples scored eight points apiece to share team high-scoring honors for Lewis-Clark State, now 3-2 for the season going into Saturday’s game against Providence of Great Falls. The Warriors shot 36 percent from the field against the Montana Tech defense. Oredigger shooters rang up a 44.4 percentage.