By Bruce Sayler
Montana Tech proved itself formidable, if not victorious Friday night in college men’s basketball.
The Orediggers squared off against NAIA eighth-ranked College of Idaho and led a good amount of the non-conference game before the undefeated Yotes eventually prevailed, 62-59. The game was part of the Montana Tech Fall Classic tournament being held this weekend in the HPER Complex. (Stats)
The tone was quiet and subdued around the Montana Tech team’s locker room after the game. The coach appreciated the exercise, not necessarily the outcome.
“It was a good battle, tonight,” Adam Hiatt said. “These were two good teams. We had lots of opportunities. We knew the team that capitalized on its opportunities would come away with the win. We missed some short shots in our own gym. We had some turnovers, some defensive lapses.
“They had one kid (Derek Wadsworth) come off the bench, who didn’t miss a shot. The difference in the game was they had one guy play at a really high level.”
The 5-foot-11 junior guard was 8-for-8 from the field, including 4-for-4 from 3-point range, and made all of his free throws to score 23 points, tying Montana Tech’s Caleb Bellach for game-high.
Wadsworth’s last two free throws with five seconds left rang up the last two points of the game.
College of Idaho held a 56-49 lead with 6 minutes left after a 10-0 run pushed the Yotes past what had been a 49-46 Oredigger edge. Wadsworth netted six of the 10 with one three-point play and one 3-point shot.
Montana Tech, though, did roar back to tie. Its own 8-0 spree began with a Bellach 3-pointer from outer limits. Taylor England then funneled in a foul shot, Bellach drove for a finger roll and Camdyn LaRance capped the run by making two charity tosses.
Scobey product Caden Handran grabbed an offensive rebound and stuck it through the hole in one motion as the Yotes took the lead back, for good, but not without challenge. England’s freebie cut the difference to 58-57 with 1:02 on the clock.
Ivory Miles-Williams worked a turnaround shot for an inside basket for College of Idaho, leaving 35 seconds to play and his team holding a 60-57 edge. The Yotes then abandoned the lanes and let Oredigger Sindou Diallo lay in two points undefended. Only 21 seconds remained.
LaRance fouled Handran to stop the clock. Handran missed the front end of the one-and-one, and England grabbed the rebound. The Orediggers raced downcourt, but Diallo was called for a travel under the basket. Montana Tech’s Derrius Collins then fouled Wadsworth, who meshed his free throws.
A Yote floor foul forced the Orediggers to inbound in front of their own bench. England fielded a pass and cut loose from deep trying to net the tying 3-pointer. The shot banked high off the backboard, but angled away from the hoop on the carom, and the last buzzer sounded.
“We got down by seven points twice in the second half and came back to take leads both times,” Hiatt said. “We had good responses.
“This felt like a conference game in November with the high level of energy and play. They are a very physical team and we knew that coming into the game. I thought we were more physical, though.”
After Jake O’Neil drove for a layup and 2-0 College of Idaho lead to launch the game, Bellach tallied the next four points, and England muscled in a basket from inside. Montana Tech had a 6-2 lead and stretched it to 10-4 as Bellach and Collins connected back-to-back.
Tyler Robinett tipped in a shot for the Yotes and Diallo answered with a spectacular drive-for-dunk. Bellach was whistled for a technical foul soon after, and College of Idaho reeled off six consecutive points to tie the score at 12-all.
Diallo sank two free throws and Bellach drove for a hoop for a 16-12 Montana Tech advantage. The Orediggers clung to the small lead most of the half until Wadsworth erased it with consecutive 3-pointers around a trey drained by teammate Drew Wyman, a freshman out of Great Falls High.
It was a 31-27 College of Idaho lead. Diallo canned a pullup jumper and England followed by working for a tough basket from the paint and the teams reached halftime tied 31-all.
They traded scoring runs and leads through the second half. The Yotes went ahead 38-33 on a 7-2 surge to begin the second half, gave up a four-point burst to the Orediggers, then tallied six points in a row. Montana Tech answered with a 10-2 run for the 49-46 gap that brought on the 10-0 spree by College of Idaho and setting up the finish.
“Cam LaRance played a really good game for us,” Hiatt said. “He made some great defensive plays, got his hand on the ball and hit a 3 late in the game. He’s really coming along as a player.”
Montana Tech will play Oklahoma City on Saturday at 7 p.m. in the second day of the tourney. Hiatt called it a “big game,” as well. Oklahoma City fell 70-63 to Carroll in Friday’s earlier game.
“We will prepare and play with great effort again – and capitalize on our opportunities and hope for a better outcome,” Hiatt said. “Whenever we all get on the same page and we become stars in our own roles, we will be a good team. We will be a different team in January from what we are right now.”
Montana Tech, now 3-2 for the season, was led by Bellach with his 23 points, Diallo with 11 and England with 10. LaRance scored seven points, Collins had six and Drew Huse two. Keeley Bake, Cody Baumstarck and Michael Ure also played. Collins led the team in rebounds with eight while Bellach and England each pulled down six. Huse dished five assists and Baumstarck registered two blocks.
College of Idaho, now 3-0, was led by Wadsworth with 23 points and Wyman with 14. O’Neil scored eight. Robinett snared six rebounds and 7-0 center Paul Wilson dealt a team-high three assists. The Yotes will play Carroll in Saturday’s 6 p.m. game in the HPER Complex.