By Bill Foley
Taylor England and Dylan Pannabecker could tell something historic was going on Thursday night.
Toward the end of the Oredigger’s 81-53 win over Rocky Mountain College at the HPER Complex, the two Oredigger men’s basketball players started doing the math and talking history. (Stats)
“Me and Dillon were actually talking during the end of the game,” England, a senior, said, referring to his senior teammate. “That’s the biggest win in conference since I’ve been here. It’s been a while.”
It has been a while. A very long while.
The 28-point victory for the Orediggers was the largest in at least 16 years. The last time the Orediggers came close to that big of a lopsided win was when they beat Carroll College 80-57 on Jan. 24, 2015.
Tech also beat the Saints 80-54 in Helena on Jan. 2, 2013.
The Orediggers have been on the wrong side of many routs in between, and that made Thursday night feel so special for the Orediggers, who won their eighth game in nine tries.
“It’s a lot more fun to be on the other end of it,” England said.
Indeed, the Orediggers are no longer cellar dwellers in the Frontier Conference. At 4-3 in conference and 12-6 overall, Tech now has a bona fide contender on its hands.
On Thursday, England led the way with 22 points and 10 rebounds, even though he spent the last several minutes on the bench talking about history.
“Taylor really set the tone,” Oredigger coach Adam Hiatt said. “We told him before the game that if they’re zoning, they’re doing it to take him away. We told him he needs to pack his own lunch, and he needs to go after rebounds and just dominate the paint. He did.
“In that first half, he was grabbing tons of offensive boards and putting them back, and he was establishing his presence in the paint,” Hiatt said. “In the second half he helped us break the game open just with his presence.”
Junior Sindou Diallo had a big night, too. He scored 10 points to go along with six assists, six rebounds and one big crowd-pleasing dunk on the break.
“He’s an incredible talent,” Hiatt said. “When he’s distributing the ball like he is, it just makes our whole team that much better.”
Tech can pretty much count on England and Diallo every night. It’s the “other guys,” who made a huge difference on Thursday, Hiatt said.
The coach pointed to the play of Pannabecker, Christian Jones, Darrius Collins, Connor Kieckbusch and Cody Baumstarck.
“We’ve been trying elevating our game because they are so pivotal to our success,” Hiatt said. “When our other guys — outside of Sindou and Taylor — start to play to our potential, we’re going to be a handful. You kind of saw a little glimpse of that tonight. We hope to carry that forward on Saturday.
“The most important thing with any team is you’ve got to be a star in your role,” Hiatt added. “We told our guys when we start to embrace our roles and be stars in those roles, we’re going to be really good.”
Jones scored 11 points off the bench, while Pannabecker, perhaps the best defender on a team full of defenders, scored nine points and grabbed seven rebounds. Troy Owens Jr. and Baumstarck, England’s back up on the post, each scored eight.
Baumstarck’s night included a rebound dunk on a fast break.
“We were stoked for that one,” England said of Baumstarck’s two-handed slam. “In practice he does it all the time.”
Collins and Drew Huse each scored five points in the win, and Kieckbusch netted three.
Collins hit a baseline 3-pointer that turned out to be one of the biggest shots of the night.
With the Orediggers clinging to a 26-24 advantage, Diallo drove and kicked to Collins. His shot hit nothing but net, and it gave the Orediggers a 29-24 advantage.
That shot started a 10-3 to close the first half and give the Orediggers a 36-27 advantage at the break.
“That just propelled us, hitting that outside shot,” England said. “Against Providence (last Thursday) and even against Northern (Saturday) we didn’t shoot very well, especially from three. So that shot was big for us.”
A 3-pointer by Owens ignited a 12-3 run in the second half that gave the Orediggers control with a 54-34 lead.
Clayton Ladine was the only Rocky player to reach double figures with 12 points. Grant Wallace scored nine, while Brandon The Boy tossed in eight.
Rocky fell to 6-10 overall and 1-6 with its fifth straight loss.
Like every Tech win under Hiatt, the Orediggers’ fourth-year head coach, this victory started with defense.
Tech won the turnover edge 22-10, and the Orediggers outrebounded the Battlin’ Bears 36-31.
“We’ve been a little bit tentative on the offensive side, but we’ve instilled in the guys’ minds that we’re going to win every game on the defensive end anyway,” Hiatt said. “Our energy from the very jump was outstanding on the defensive side.”
When the offense clicked, too, the Orediggers had a whole lot of fun.
While talking history on the bench, England said the Orediggers particularly enjoyed watching reserves William Mytty and Cody Liles get some playing time.
“It was great to see them in there and just to get a feel for what it’s like to be there,” he said.
The Orediggers will look for their ninth win in 10 games Saturday night when they play host to Montana Western.
Tech’s only loss since Dec. 7 came last week when they fell 76-71 to No. 8 University of Providence at the HPER.
“Even then, we played really well as a team,” England said. “We’ve been playing really well, getting our chemistry, know where people are and hitting our shots.”