DILLON — As the regular season winds down, the University of Montana Western men’s basketball team had two critical games last week. The first was on the road to Havre, Mont. to take on the Frontier Conference leading Montana State University-Northern Lights. The second was at home against the Carroll College Saints, who are currently at the bottom of the conference standings.
The Bulldogs handed 12th-ranked MSU-Northern a 59-57 home loss on Valentine’s Day. The win avenged the Bulldogs’ own 53-64 home loss to the Lights on Jan. 10. It also gave head coach Steve Keller his first win in Havre and the Bulldogs’ first win there since February 2006.
Montana Western led for most of the contest, taking a quick four-point lead and building it up to 13 on a Tyler Miller three-pointer at the 3:05 mark. They held a 32-26 edge at the half while shooting 48 percent (11-23) from the field and 57 percent (4-7) behind the arc. Montana Western held MSU-Northern to 33 percent (8-24) from the floor and 27 percent (3-11) on three-pointers.
The Lights took their first lead of the second half, 57-56, with 2:43 remaining. An offensive put-back by Jake Owsley and a free throw by Gabe Rucker was enough to hold off the Lights and take home the 59-57 Bulldog win.
Owsley led the Bulldogs with 16 points and six rebounds while Jordan Overstreet pitched in 10 points. Miller and Kris Collins each contributed nine points while Rucker had two assists.
MSU-Northern got 13 points from Corbin Pearson and 11 from Devin Jackson. Will Perry pulled down seven rebounds while Jackson dished four assists.
The Bulldogs’ will to win was enough to get the job done as they only won the following statistical categories: rebounds (31-28) and blocks (three to two). They trailed the Lights in the following: in assists (three to 11) turnovers (10 to eight) and steals (three to five).
On Saturday, Montana Western took down Carroll 79-74, a team much better than their 2-23, 1-13 record indicates. The Saints were looking especially dangerous after only losing 74-77 to the Bulldogs on Feb. 1 and picking up their first conference win on Thursday, Feb. 14 at Great Falls, 63-58.
There were 11 lead changes and neither team led by more than seven in the Frontier Conference showdown. The Bulldogs led for the bulk of the first half, with Carroll getting leads at the beginning and end. The Saints took a 40-39 score into the half.
Carroll continued to stay ahead until the 12:38 mark when a Kris Castro basket knotted the score at 54. From there, the Saints only had one quick lead before the Bulldogs went on a 15-8 run, including 10 points from Jake Owsley. Montana Western went six of eight from the free throw line to hang on for the 79-74 win.
Montana Western shot 44 percent (28-63) from the floor, 45 percent (9-20) behind the arc and 64 percent (14-22) from the charity stripe. Carroll was similar from the floor at 46 percent (28-61) and the free throw line at 72 percent (13-18), but was only 30 percent (5-17) on three-pointers
Tyler Miller led the way for the Bulldogs with a career-high 23 points on eight of nine shooting and four of five from downtown. Owsley had an impressive all-around game before fouling out with 19 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks, two steals and two assists. Maazin Butler also reached double figures with 17 points. Castro pulled down 10 rebounds and had four assists while Gabe Rucker dished seven.
Nick Jones led all scorers with 30 points for the Saints followed by Dennis Mikelonis with 21 and Jake Hollifield with 12. Mikelonis also had 13 rebounds while Riley King had four assists.
With just one week of regular season play to go, here is how the Frontier Conference stacks up: Lewis-Clark State leads the way at 10-3 followed by MSU-Northern (10-4), Montana Western (9-5), Great Falls (8-6), Westminster (7-6), Rocky Mountain (7-7), Montana Tech (6-8), Dickinson State (3-9) and Carroll College (1-13).
The race is still wide open for both the conference regular season championship and playoff hosting opportunities. In the new six-team format, the third- and fourth-place teams will host the first round games while the first and second seeds will host the second round.
Montana Western will finish its regular season schedule at home on Thursday and Friday, Feb. 21 and 22 against the Montana Tech Orediggers and the Lewis-Clark State Warriors. The Bulldogs won the last meeting 81-74 on Jan. 3 but were beaten 69-82 by Lewis-Clark State on Jan. 5. Both games will tip-off at 7:30 p.m. and lone senior Vince Turk will be honored Friday evening.
— Montana Western Sports Information