By Bruce Sayler
Montana Tech might have played its best women’s basketball game of the season Thursday night when it took the measure of Providence from Great Falls 74-63 for its first Frontier Conference victory of the season. (Stats)
The game was played in the Montana Tech HPER Complex before a growing crowd. Spectators were few at tip-off, but gained enough size for a noticeable vocal presence to cheer the Orediggers into holding their winning margin by the end.
NAIA 13th-ranked Providence was without star Parker Esary and Montana Tech played minus guard Megan Delaney and Chelestina Faletoi, who head coach Carly Sanon said likely will not miss more than a week of a time with an injury.
Sanon liked her team’s performance.
“We did play well,” she said. “We’re getting better and better every week. We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores playing a lot of minutes for us. Their effort is great and their attitude is great.”
The Orediggers took the lead for good in the first quarter and expanded it to as many as 18 points in the third, then held off an Argonauts rally to post the win.
Sanon had plenty of praise to disperse.
“Tjaden Pallister played great for us and Mollie Peoples got us going,” Sanon said. “She got us going. She got her middle game going and she shot well.”
“In the second half (the Argos) got (the lead) to under 10 and were knocking at the door. I looked at Mesa (Williams) and said ‘this is when you can’t hide’ and she took over for us. And, Kaylee Zard, in one stretch, hit some baskets and kept us going.”
Montana Tech took the lead at 14-13 when Peoples came in off the bench and canned a 3-point shot with 23 seconds left in the first quarter. Williams followed with a steal and layup, and the Orediggers were ahead by 16-13 heading into the second quarter.
Providence drew with a point as 6-foot-1 standout Tristan Murphy tallied from inside. The two teams traded four-point runs until Pallister knocked down a pullup jumper, and Dani Urick fed a loose ball to the hoop. Peoples then capped the surge with a 3-pointer off a kickout pass from Zard and opened an eight-point spread.
The difference was 35-25 at halftime.
The Oredigger zone defense was key in the first half as the Argonauts shot only 34 percent from the field prior to halftime.
“(Emilee) Maldonado is one of the best point guards in the league, so we played more zone than we usually would,” Sanon said. “We didn’t want to guard her one-on-one.”
Maldonado still wound up with a game-high 22 points, getting loose a little bit in the second half for drives and runners. Murphy had 20 points and Molly Schmitz 13 as Providence leaders. Montana Tech saw a little more balance in its scoring columns. Williams led with 20 points, Zard and Peoples notched 15 each and Pallister put in 10.
Both teams were dead-eye from the foul line. Montana Tech was 18-for-19 from the stripe and Providence was 17-for-19.
Montana Tech broke from a 43-33 advantage to lengthen it out to 51-33 with an eight-point run in the middle stretch of the third quarter. Zard netted four free throws and a layup to highlight the run, begun on a Urick drive.
Those expecting an Argonauts’ explosion got one. They outscored the Orediggers 11-2 the last 5 minutes of the quarter and trailed by only 53-46 when the fourth quarter arrived. Maldonado launched the run with a stepout jumper from the key, and made four foul shots in the spree. Providence then got a 3-pointer from Maldonado and a charity stripe make from Schmitz to slice Montana Tech’s edge to 53-50 with 8 minutes, 54 seconds left in the game.
Peoples drove for a bucket and Murphy scored for the Argos on an inbounds play under their basket. Montana Tech scrapped back with a Peoples pullup jumper and five points from Williams — two freebies and a long-distance call. Williams canceled out a Schmitz jumper with two free throws and the Orediggers led 64-54 with 4:06 on the clock.
Maldonado banked in Providence’s last points of the game on a runner with 1:25 to go and Montana Tech finished up on a basket by Pallister, two free throws by Zard and one by Peoples.
Providence owns a win over nationally ranked and previously undefeated Montana Western and saw its overall record go to 12-5 with the loss to Montana Tech. The Argonauts are 1-4 in conference play.
Urick finished with eight points for the Orediggers, Lana Berg scored two and played well in the paint, and Hailey Crawford and Sharlei Graham-Bernisto also played. The win was Montana Tech’s first in the Frontier this year, against four losses. The team has a 9-8 overall record heading into a road game on Saturday against Montana State-Northern in Havre. The Montana Tech win over Providence snapped a three-game losing streak.
“We’ve been concentrating on turnovers and offensive rebounds,” Sanon said. “We had 16 turnovers tonight and so we still have to work on them.”
The team out-rebounded Providence 34-31, including seven on the offensive end, but gave up 15 offensive boards to the taller Argonauts. Zard led Montana Tech with eight rebounds.
Tip-off on Saturday for Montana Tech against MSU-Northern is scheduled for 6 p.m.