DILLON —The University of Montana Western men’s basketball team hosted the third-seeded Montana State University-Northern Lights on Saturday/ The Bulldogs held on for the 68-59 semi-final victory and earned the rights to host tonight’s Frontier Conference Championship.
The first half was evenly matched as there were three lead changes and seven ties. Montana Western held the largest lead, just six points, on a Vince Turk free throw at the 9:12 mark. The Bulldogs held a narrow 28-26 lead at the half, including 10 points from Gabe Rucker.
In the second half, the Lights outscored the Bulldogs 12-7 in the first 10 minutes. At the 9:39 mark, Montana Western’s Jake Owsley would be whistled for two technical fouls, resulting in an ejection. Northern would make three of the four foul shots followed by a Corbin Pearson basket to gain an eight-point lead, which was their largest of the night.
Then the Bulldogs came alive, scoring 11 unanswered points over the next two and a half minutes. The streak included a perfect nine of nine shots from the charity stripe. The Lights would get back to within one before the Bulldogs went on an 18-9 run. Montana Western would sink 13 of 14 free throws in the final two minutes to seal the 68-59 victory.
For the game, the Bulldogs shot 43 percent (19-44) from the field and 25 percent (2-8) behind the arc. The Lights shot 38 percent (21-56) and 23 percent (6-26). The major difference was at the free throw line; Montana Western made 10 more than MSU-Northern even shot. The Bulldogs were 28 of 32 (86 percent) compared to only 11 of 18 (61 percent) for the Lights.
Rucker led all scorers with a career-high 16 points, including five of eight from the field and five of six from the charity strip. Jordan Overstreet followed with 11 while Tyler Miller and Maazin Butler each chipped in nine.
The Bulldogs out-rebounded the Lights 34-28, led by Miller with eight, Owsley with seven and Kris Castro with six. Castro dished four assists while Rucker had three and Miller grabbed as many steals.
Pearson led MSU-Northern with 14 points and nine rebounds while Roshawn West contributed 12 points and Jesse Vaughan had three assists.
The 15th-ranked Bulldogs (22-8, 11-5) will take their six-game winning streak into the chipper when they host Rocky Mountain (20-12, 9-7). The fifth-seeded Battlin’ Bears upset top-ranked Lewis-Clark State 79-72 in Saturday’s other semi-final game. The winner will receive an automatic berth to the NAIA national tournament, March 13-19, in Kansas City, Mo.
Montana Western swept the previous two games with Rocky Mountain this season: a 75-67 home win on Jan. 18 and an 89-86 overtime thriller at the Fortin Center on Jan. 24. The Bulldogs will be without their leading scorer as Owsley’s ejection results in an automatic next-game suspension.
Jeremy Nicholas paces the Battlin’ Bears offense with 15.53 points per game. Other statistical leaders include Joel Barndt with 8.34 rebounds and 0.94 blocks and Don Parham with 4.59 assists and 2.53 steals.
The Frontier Conference Championship will take place at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in Montana Western’s Straugh Gymnasium. Tickets are $7 for adults, $5 for senior citizens and students ages six through college. Children under the age of six are admitted free of charge. No regular season passes will be accepted.
— UM Western Sports Information