By Bill Foley
The Orediggers cannot wait until Tuesday night.
That is when the Montana Tech men’s basketball team gets another crack at No. 14 University of Providence on the Kelvin Sampson Court at the HPER Complex.
Tech’s players cannot wait because they want to erase the sting of Monday’s 86-83 loss to the Argonauts. They also cannot wait to play because they want to build on a second half that nearly erased a 21-point first half deficit. (Stats)
“Yes, they do. They really want to play right now,” Oredigger coach Adam Hiatt said of his players moments after a loss that snapped Tech’s three-game winning streak. “I’m happy with how we executed in the second half. We’ve just got to be better tomorrow.”
Game 2 of the back-to-back matchup tips off at 7 o’clock. The women’s game starts at 5.
Monday’s game presented one of the more bizarre situations in the history of Frontier Conference basketball. The Orediggers played their first game in late October. They didn’t get another game until about a month later. Then, Tech picked up three Frontier Conference wins, the latest coming against Montana Western and Carroll College on the lats two nights of 2020.
Providence, well, that’s a totally different story. The Argonauts, who did not have in-person classes during the fall semester, were taking the court for the first time in 300 days because of the coronavirus pandemic.
While providence has some high-profile returners, like Frontier Conference Preseason Player of the Year Zaccheus Darko-Kelly, the Orediggers were kind of flying blind against a team that had lots of tape on the Orediggers.
“First of all, they’re a great team,” Hiatt said. “They haven’t played all year. They’ve got some talented players and some new faces. We were unsure about a number of their guys. These type of games really scare us.”
The Argos used that to their advantage quickly building a double-digit lead.
“They kind of know who we are. We don’t know who they are,” Hiatt said. “We knew they’d come out with a ton of energy, and they did. They were all over the place. They were speeding us up. They were making us play their game, which was a track meet game.”
The rushed Oredigger offense was cold early on, and the Argos build a lead to 21 points at 43-21 when Rashee Socks hit one of two free throws with 1 minute, 32 seconds left in the first half.
Then, the Orediggers launched a rally to pull within 43-30 with eight straight points to close the half.
“I really credit our three freshman who came in — Cam LaRance, Keeley Bake and Bridger Deden,” Hiatt said. “Those three guys helped stabilize things as we were in foul trouble, got some baskets, cut it down to 13.”
Sindou Diallo, the Tech senior who was named Frontier Conference Player of the Week earlier in the day, led the Oredigger charge in the second half. He scored 18 of his game-high 20 points after the break.
“He’s hard to guard, there’s no doubt about it,” Providence coach Steve Keller said. “We did a great job on him in the first half, and we didn’t do a great job on him in the second half. But he’s a great player. He got us on the baseline. We worked hard on him not getting us baseline, but he’s hard to keep off the baseline.”
Keller also pointed to too many fouls by the Argos, resulting on a handful of “and one” situations.
Providence sent the Orediggers to the free throw line 35 times, and tech sank 22 of them. The Argos hit 21 of 28 free throws in a game that was largely dominated by the whistle. The teams combined for 54 personal fouls.
“We were really good in the first half defensively, other than fouls,” Keller said. “Our conditioning isn’t where it needs to be at. We got a little tired in the first half.”
The Orediggers more resembled the team that beat Western and Carroll the second half. That got them within striking distance, slowly cutting the lead until they were within 3.
Markieth Brown Jr., who hit some big shots in the second half, launched a 3-pointer from the corner with just over a minute left in the game. The shot, which would have tied the game at 82, was just off the mark however.
“We hit that shot 9 out of 10 times,” Hiatt said. “The big difference in the second half was we played slower, more under control. We understood how they were trying to defend us, and we got quality shots.”
Tech cut the lead to 84-83 when Diallo capped a fast break with a two-handed dunk with 34 seconds left to play.
Diallo then fouled Darko-Kelly, and the Providence star hit two free throws with 10.1 seconds left for an 86-83 lead. The foul was the fifth for Diallo, sending the Oredigger star to the bench.
Brown looked to get off a 3-pointer, but Darko-Kelly wisely fouled him just before the shot with 3.2 seconds left.
The Orediggers argued he should have been awarded three free throws, but he only got to shoot two. The point was mute after he missed the free tosses. Marcus Stephens grabbed the rebound to end the game.
“We found a way in the end to hang on,” Keller said. “I’m proud of our guys.”
Davien Harris-Williams led the Argos in scoring with 19 points. He also grabbed seven rebounds. Cap Uzan tossed in 16 points, and Darko Kelly came within one assist of a triple double. The Great Falls native scored 14 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and dropped nine dimes.
Diallo was one of four Orediggers in double figures scoring. Brown scored 13 points for Tech, which was playing its third game without injured senior Taylor England. Derrius Collins scored 12 points, while freshman Bridger Larson tossed in 11 points to go along with eight rebounds.
The Orediggers also got nine big points from reserve Drew Huse and four apiece from Cody Baumstarck, Nate Ward, LaRance and Bake. Deden tossed in two.
Christian Jones also contributed for the Orediggers.
The pandemic meant for an unusual start to the Frontier Conference game. It also ended in an unusual fashion, meaning both head coaches left the gym happy with their team.
That probably will not be the case after they play again Tuesday. The Orediggers are looking forward to trying to making sure it is the Argos who leave feeling down.
“We’re happy with our second-half performance, and we’re looking forward to playing tomorrow,” Hiatt said. “We’ve got a little bit of tape on them, and we’ll see what we can do tomorrow.”