By Bruce Sayler
Montana Tech flipped the switch to Saturday and left Friday in its wake as a men’s basketball experience.
The Orediggers rebounded, both on the boards and in overall performance, while beating traditional small college basketball power Oklahoma City 88-69 in non-conference play at the Montana Tech Fall Classic tournament in the school’s HPER Complex. (Stats)
It capped the tourney. Carroll defeated NAIA eighth-ranked College of Idaho 59-51 in Saturday’s earlier game.
College of Idaho had edged Montana Tech 62-59 Friday night after Carroll had topped Oklahoma City 70-63.
Montana Tech’s major pain to Oklahoma City’s intentions Saturday night was Sindou Diallo, who could start signing his name “Major Dunk” and Oredigger basketball fans would recognize him. The 6-foot-3 senior from Tacoma, Washington, scored 19 points to lead all scorers with the total including another high-wire slam, fed to him by Caleb Bellach.
The teamwork has been entertaining. Oklahoma City found it unstoppable.
“I love these guys,” Diallo said after the game. “This is my family right here.”
Montana Tech applied its stamp to the game early. The Orediggers outscored Oklahoma City 13-2 to start the contest and the Stars were never really in it. Diallo put the first point up with a free throw. Kori Guest scored off a rebound for Oklahoma City and his team’s only lead. Montana Tech tallied 12 in a row as Diallo notched five in the run that included a 3-pointer by Derrius Collins and baskets by Bellach and Taylor England.
“Coming back from a big loss to College of Idaho, we knew it was important that we win tonight,” Diallo said. “It was a bounce-back game for us. We know we should’ve won that game (Friday night). If this team plays hard, we can overcome a lot of things. The sky is the limit.”
The gap had grown to 22-9 midway through the first half as Cody Baumstarck came off the bench to score seven points on two rebound baskets and on a three-point play. He also made a couple of strong defensive plays in those moments.
Michael Ure drained a 3-point basket, Camdyn LaRance picked up a loose ball and dribbled court-long for a layup, then Bellach picked up a ball that had been a Stars pass Derrius Collins tipped away from the receiver. Bellach slammed it home at the other end.
Ryan Birt scored four points as Oklahoma City tried not to lose more ground, but Collins drilled a 3-pointer, Diallo took a pass from Collins for a fast-break basket and Keeley Bake pulled up on a break for a 3-point basket. The margin was 22 points, 37-15 in Montana Tech’s favor. The halftime score was 48-25 after LaRance keyed an 8-0 Oredigger run by hitting a 3-pointer. Bake made a foul shot and Diallo went 4-for-4 at the charity stripe to finish the spree.
“It was a very nice bounce-back win for us,” Montana Tech head coach Adam Hiatt said. “We felt we’d been defending well, but were disconnected on the offensive end. Having a clear understanding of where the shots are coming from makes a world of difference.
“I feel this could be a good turning point for us. If we can (continue the offense shown Saturday), we’ll be a handful. All in all, this was a great weekend here for all four teams.”
The closest the Stars could come to the Orediggers after halftime was 16 points, 71-55 after two freebies by Guest. Mostly reserves or mixes of reserves and a couple of starters played for Montana Tech. Oklahoma City also cleared its bench.
The play didn’t seem to let up or drop much.
The last sizeable run was a 7-0 Montana Tech surge begun by Bellach ahead of a baseline-drive reverse layup by Bake, two free throws by Bridger and one foul shot by Ure. It made the difference 86-62 with only one minute, 43 seconds to go in the game.
“We know we’re at that level,” Hiatt said while alluding to the other teams in the Tech Fall Classic. “We have to learn to close games and to play to our potential. We’re closer to our potential tonight than we were last night.
“One element that has really been good for us is we don’t turn the ball over that much. Our turnover margin has been a large gap over our opponents. Tonight’s seemed like a frenetic game, but we only had nine turnovers. That’s a little high, maybe, for us, but they had 16 and we’ll take that.”
Being ready to go has given the Orediggers an advantage, too.
“We have been the aggressive team,” the coach said. “We take more free throws than the opponents. A good indication of how aggressive we are is how many free throws we take (from mostly driving to the hoop).”
The team’s talent and deep bench has also allowed for compensating for whatever mistakes may be made. Hiatt said it comes from the players knowing one another well and willingness to pick each other up after a miscue. Diallo agreed, but also welcomed spectators to the game after they were banned all last season because of the Covid-19 outbreak.
“This year, having people here cheering us on is nice, especially after the Covid year,” Diallo said. “I’d like to thank all the people for coming out and cheering us on.
“We’re going to build from this win tonight. If we keep working and listening to the coach, we’ll accomplish a lot of goals.”
Bake came off the bench to net 14 points while England, the team’s power in the middle, scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Bellach had 10 points, Baumstarck and Ure seven apiece, Collins six, LaRance five, Larson four and Christian Jones three. Drew Huse was in foul trouble much of the game but was key as the point guard while able to be on the floor. Robbie Simpson, John Dhuol, Sam Gray and Colter Bales also saw time.
Guest led Oklahoma City with 18 points. Three Stars – Rashaun Coleman, Eric Amadio and Dadrian Hoambrecker were next-high with seven points each.
The loss dropped Oklahoma City to 1-5. Montana Tech improved to 4-2. The Orediggers will go to Ashland, Oregon, next weekend for the Flagship Inn Tournament. They’re matched against third-ranked Oregon Tech on Friday, then play host Southern Oregon on Saturday.