CHANDLER, Ariz. — The University of Montana Western Bulldogs men’s basketball team was unable to hold off the No. 4 Arizona Christian University Firestorm as they fell 79-76. Stats
The first eight minutes and the last eight minutes proved to be costly as the Bulldogs could not weather the Firestorm full court run-and-jump defense to start or finish the game.
The first half started slow and finished fast as the Bulldogs took a 37-30 lead into intermission. No. 4 Arizona Christian started the game on a 10-2 run and held their eight point lead to a 16-8 lead with 12:14 to play in the half. The ‘Dawgs answered with a 29-14 run to conclude the first half of action.
If not for the Firestorms’ Chris Sterling’s hot hand, the Bulldogs may have taken an even larger lead to start the game. Sterling scored 20 first half points on 6-10 shooting from the field, including 3-5 from downtown and 5-6 from the charity stripe.
Senior Demitrius Balark (12), freshman Kooper Kidgell (9) and senior Dexter Williams, Jr. (7) paced the first half scoring. Kidgell came off the bench to knockdown two long-range bombs that sparked the Bulldogs late first-half push.
In a battle of two NAIA Sweet 16 qualifiers from a season ago proved that defense is the key to success as both teams struggled to knock down shots at a consistent clip in the first half.
The Bulldogs shot just 40 percent (13-32) from the field and limited the Firestorm to 32 percent (9-28). Sterling was 6-10 as the rest of the team combined to go 3-18 from the field.
Montana Western picked up where they left off as they continued to steadily grow their lead in the early goings of the second half. They stretched their lead to as many as 16 points (65-49) after a two-point bucket by Shyke Smalls with 8:17 to play.
Following an Arizona Christian timeout, the Firestorm took off to score 12 unanswered points and finished the game on a 30-11 run to result in the final score of 79-76.
The game saw six ties and nine lead changes, no lead change was bigger than when Bobby Gray scored two of his eight points to take the lead for good at 71-69.
After scoring 20 first half points, Sterling was limited to seven second half points and a game-high 27 points.
With the defensive focus on the All-American Sterling, Brandon Newman scored 21 of his 22 points in the second half, including five 3-pointers to help propel the Firestorm to a non-conference victory.
Shariff Watson joined Sterling and Newman in double-figures with 15 points.
The Bulldogs were led by junior Shyke Smalls who scored all of his team-high 26 points in the second half as he finished 10-16 from the field and knocked down 5-9 3-pointers.
Balark finished with 17 points on 6-12 shooting, he also dished out three assists, grabbed four rebounds and recorded three steals.
After playing all 40 minutes, Williams, Jr. nine points, brought down seven rebounds, tallied three steals, dished out two assists and blocked a shot.
Ryan Sullivan finished with a game-high 10 rebounds.
Montana Western will return to action on Saturday at 4 p.m. as they take on Benedictine-Mesa in their final game of the Chandler-Gilbert Classic.
— Montana Western Sports Information