By Bill Foley
Adam Hiatt called it a “magical night.”
Chris O’Neill said it was a “great win.”
Whatever the adjectives you use, Montana Tech sent a shockwave around the Frontier Conference and beyond Thursday night. The Orediggers overcame a 15-point deficit to beat No. 10 Carroll College 73-70 at the HPER Complex. (Stats)
“It was really good for our program because we just needed to know that we can beat anyone,” O’Neill, a senior guard, said. “Carroll is probably the top team in our conference, and we just showed we could beat them.”
O’Neill led the charge, scoring 13 of his game-high 19 points in the second half to help Tech overcome a 41-28 deficit at the break.
Junior forward Iman Chatman scored 10 of his 12 points after the break, and sophomore Jake Miles tossed in nine of his 11 points in the second half.
“The main thing was that we hit shots,” O’Neill said. “I don’t know what our shooting percentage was in the first half, but it was probably pretty low.”
The Orediggers connected on 48 percent of their shots in the first half. The team shot 35 percent in the first half.
Tech also got contributions up and down its bench as the Orediggers beat the Saints for the first time in five tries in two years with Hiatt as head coach.
“We did have a couple guys step up and make shots, and that’s really what you’ve got to do to upset teams,” Hiatt said. “You’ve got to have guys who play above their statistics, their averages, and we had that tonight.”
Tech got eight points from John Chapman, seven apiece from Kale Guldseth and Dylan Pannabecker, four from Trent Molesworth, three from Derrius Collins and two from Taylor England.
Carson Dummer also contributed in the win that lifted the Orediggers to 2-7 in the Frontier and 10-11 overall.
“We had a few guys step up and hit some shots, and we just went with it,” O’Neill said. “We had the momentum, bounces starting going our way, we locked up on defense.
“I don’t think I hit a shot in the first half,” O’Neill said. “I knew I needed to hit shots. I saw one go in, and I felt good the rest of the half.”
The biggest deficit of the game saw the Orediggers trail 41-26. Guldseth, who saw his most extensive time in weeks, hit both ends of a one and one to make it 41-28 at the break.
The Orediggers turned the tide on the Saints, who made just 29 percent of their shots in the second half.
Ryan Imhoff, the league’s leading scorer, was held to two points in the second half.
The Orediggers slowly chipped away at the lead, the momentum started to build, and the ho-hum crowd eventually into a raucous one.
Tech took its first lead of the game when O’Neill took a Chatman pass and sank a 3-pointer to make it 57-56 with 5 minutes, 36 seconds left.
The game saw four more ties before Miles put the Orediggers one tip for good by making the second end of his bonus free throw with 2:07 left.
The Orediggers extended the lead to four a couple of times, but Carroll still had a chance late thanks to a few Tech free throw misses.
With Tech up 72-69, the Orediggers missed a free throw to ice the game with 6 seconds left, but Miles fouled Matt Wyman with 2.2 seconds on the clock.
The foul, which prevented the Saints from attempting a game-tying 3-pointer, was planned during a timeout between free throws.
“That really helped us save the game,” Hiatt said, saying the Orediggers needed to create their own luck. “Again, when you’re a program trying to get over the hump, bounces don’t go your way.”
Wyman made the first and missed the second free throw intentionally. The intentional miss, though, didn’t hit the rim. Tech took possession, and O’Neill hit one of two free throws to make it 73-70.
Carroll’s desperation chance with 1.4 seconds on the clock didn’t materialize, however, because the Saints, under heavy pressure, threw the inbounds pass out of bounds.
Tech inbounded to Molesworth, and the celebration was on.
“We’ve had so many close games this year, so it was great to finally close one out,” O’Neill said. “That was a great win.”
Match Burnham scored 15 points to lead five Saints in double figures as Carroll fell to 5-4 and 17-4.
Imhoff, who is playing through a shoulder injury suffered when the Saints beat Tech in Butte two weeks ago, scored 13, while Wyman and Alejandro Santos Piqueras scored 12, and Ife Kalejaiye tossed in 11.
Hiatt said the Orediggers simply played better in the second half than they did in the first.
“Really, it wasn’t much of an X and O adjustment at halftime,” the coach said. “I didn’t say a whole lot to the team, other than, ‘This is not what we’re looking for.’ I feel our guys came out and responded in a real positive manner.”
The Orediggers look to build on the big win Friday night when they welcome Rocky Mountain College to the HPER Complex.
The women tip off at 5:30 p.m., and the men play at 7:30.