BUTTE — Jogging toward the locker room following Montana Tech’s 73-70 win over tenth-ranked Carroll College, Adam Hiatt gave a slight fist pump.
His back toward the court, it wasn’t possible to see the Oredigger men’s basketball coach’s face. It’s quite impossible it was anything but a massive grin.
His ‘Digger squad, which trailed by 15 points at a point during the game, outscored the Saints 45-29 in the second half to give him his first win over one of Tech’s fiercest rivals.
“What a magical night for our guys,” Hiatt said. “Just the manner in which we did it. Down 13 at halftime. Not playing very well. Then we hold them to 29 percent shooting in the second half and start making shots that we’re capable of making.
“They finally went in.”
The Orediggers, who led by one very early, wouldn’t retake the lead until Chris O’Neill hit a three-point shot with 5:36 left in the game. O’Neill, who scored 19 points on the night, was all over the court after halftime and had seven rebounds, three assists and hit eight of his nine free throw attempts.
The 6-foot guard helped the ‘Diggers climb out of the steep hole they had dug themselves with five total field goals in the second half.
Aptly, he was named Oredigger of the game after the win.
“I don’t know what our shooting percentage was in the first half, but it was pretty low,” O’Neill said. “We had guys step up hit some shots, the momentum started going our way and we locked down on defense.”
Montana Tech led by as many as four points late in the game, but Carroll managed to remain within striking distance.
With a little over three seconds left, Jake Miles at the free throw line and the ‘Diggers up by two points, Hiatt made a critical choice during a timeout. If Miles — who Hiatt told not to listen to this particular instruction — sunk his first free throw and missed his second attempt, he was going to have his team foul Carroll.
Miles did indeed miss his second free throw and sprinted down the court to foul Carroll’s Matt Wymann.
Wymann made his first shot from the charity stripe, before a lane violation on the Saints gave the Orediggers the ball back.
“I’ve been burned by not fouling and I’ve been burned by fouling,” Hiatt said. “It’s kind of a feel thing.”
The ‘Diggers were defensively sound during the second half and especially so on star Carroll forward Ryan Imhoff. The 6-foot-6 senior had four points and no field goals in the final 20 minutes of play.
The third loss in six games for Carroll, the Saints drop to 17-4 on the season and 5-4 in conference play.
“It’s a disappoint result and you have to get ready for the next one,” Carroll head coach Carson Cunningham said. “Give Montana Tech credit. Every game in this league is a battle and there’s no time to pout or get down, you have to get ready for the next one.”
For the Orediggers, the next one comes quickly. Tech hosts Rocky Mountain College on Friday night.
But, for one evening, the ‘Digger players will reveal in having done something extremely special.
“It was good for our program,” O’Neill said. “We’ve had so many close games this year and it was great to finally close one out.”