Digger men finish strong, roll past Bison again

By Bruce Sayler

They were shooting from the emblem.

Salish Kootenai College topped out the outside game with a 3-point barrage that forced Montana Tech to an early change in defense. The Bison actually let loose from the MT logo painted at midcourt of the Montana Tech HPER Complex basketball floor several times while launching more long shots than Churchill Downs.

The Orediggers adjusted quickly and successfully on their Kelvin Sampson Court and came away with a 105-72 non-conference win Tuesday night in college men’s basketball. Stats

“We had to do a rotation tonight we hadn’t done this year,” Montana Tech head coach Adam Hiatt said. “We had to go smaller because we had to be quicker on the perimeter, because our bigs weren’t able to get out on their shooters.

“We gave up nine points on 3s right away and so we had to go smaller.”

Salish Kootenai, from Pablo, nailed its first five 3-point attempts and built an 18-9 advantage six minutes into the contest. The Bison showed absolutely no halfcourt offense. They gained control of the ball and they shot it. They fired up 20 treys in the first half and funneled nine of them through the hoop.

Some included the cord-stretchers from near midcourt.

Any up-close shots they got were because of rebounds. They mixed an occasional free throw in now and then.

The Orediggers won 89-61 when the teams met in Pablo on Saturday. So, Hiatt and Co. knew what they were getting into with the quick turnaround rematch.

Jalen Croff and the two Frybergs — Bradley and Tisen — led the early attack for the Bison. Montana Tech began to stem the flow in the seventh minute as 6-foot-7, 215-pound strongman Sadiq Inuwa asserted control of the middle.

Inuwa scored inside by muscling home passes from Carson Dummer and Lukas Vinng. Vining also tallied twice o close-range jumpers and Chris O’Neill executed a steal-and-layin play. The Salish Kootenai lead was down to 20-19 midway through the first half.

The Bison ran out ahead again, to a 28-21 advantage, then succumbed to a 15-3 run as the Orediggers grabbed the lead for good.

The inside play of Inuwa and Dummer keyed the run.

The count was 45-38 at halftime with Montana Tech establishing control.

“We felt that adjustment was the difference for us,” Hiatt said about going to the smaller lineup. “We wore them down and we scored off turnovers on a night when we weren’t really sharp, offensively.

“We’re not going to see another team like that. It’s a different thing for us to ask of our bigs — to get out and challenge their shooters. And (the Bison) all had the green light.”

Fatigue and foul trouble began to plague Salish Kootenai after halftime, but not until after a serious run at the Orediggers. The Bison cut a 10-point deficit in half with a 3-pointer by Aaron Ahenikew and a long 2-pointer by Tisen Fryberg. Jonas Jones knocked down a tip-in for Montana Tech, then Bradley Fryberger drove for a coast-to-coast layup after snaring a defensive rebound, and Josh Smith fired in a 3-point goal for Salish Kootenai.

Suddenly, it was a two-point game, 56-54, with Montana Tech clinging to the lead and 14 minutes, 17 seconds showing on the clock.

The Orediggers outscored the Bison 22-2 over the next 5 ½ minutes. Dylan Pannabecker came off the Montana Tech bench to provide a spark, scoring six of the first eight points in the run, and tallying another bucket later in it.

The Orediggers enjoyed a 78-56 bulge and Salish Kootenai struggled with being tired, losing Smith to an undisclosed injury and seeing both Bradley Fryberger and Zachry Mills foul out of the contest.

Coach Zachary Conkol-Camel was operating with only a nine-man roster, anyway.

“We had that spurt about eight minutes into the second half when we opened it up,” Hiatt said. “We got the win playing with freshmen, sophomores and a brand-new junior college guy. We’re enjoying the process of getting better and competing every week.”

Four players scored in double figures as the Orediggers took their season record to 6-3. Vining led with 20 points and also had a team-high 11 rebounds. Pannabecker had 18 points, Inuwa 16 and O’Neill 13. Montana Tech won the battle of the boards with 56 rebounds to Salish Kootenai’s 28. O’Neill also dished five assists, second on the team to the six dealt by Butte Central grad Kale Guldseth.

The Bison put five players in double figures while sinking 12 of 30 attempts from  three-point land. Ahenakew sank four 3-pointers on the way to 18 points, Tisen Fryberg scored 15, Bradley Fryberg 13, Smith 11 and Jalen Croff 10. Ahenakew also had a team-high seven rebounds.

Montana Tech will next play on Dec. 1 when it opens the Frontier Conference part of its schedule with a home game against Montana State-Northern.

Hiatt said he is hoping to have bave back one of the Orediggers now sittig out with injury.

“Two are starters,” he said. “So, we are undermanned. We hope to get one back next week, the other might be out longer.

“Adversity creates opportunity.”

Hiatt is in his first year at  the Montana Tech helm, but came to Butte following a stint as head coach at former Frontier Conference member Westminster. He said he likes the new job.

“It’s a great group of guys,” he said. “They’re all eager. There are three things you look for in a team: To be athletic, smart and experienced. Right now, we lack in all three. There’s not much we can do about the athletic part, but we will be smarter with more experience, and will be a competitive team.”