BUTTE — Coming out of a media timeout with 12:38 left in the first half against Concordia-Edmonton, Montana Tech head coach Adam Hiatt challenged his team, down by a point, to step up defensively.
The ‘Diggers proceeded to rip off a 21-2 run over the next five minutes, which included a stretch of three straight Thunder possessions ending in turnovers. It was exactly what Hiatt was looking for.
“That stretch was big and I’m glad we responded,” Hiatt said. “We’re a little concerned with our starts, which is always a concern when you have a young team, especially consider we’re on the eve of Frontier Conference play.
“You have so many veteran teams in the conference that you really can’t afford to have slow starts.”
Tech had little issue with Concordia the rest of the way, winning 98-63. It was a good win for the now 7-5 Orediggers, who had struggled a bit during the early part of December and dropped its first two Frontier Conference games.
A mainstay of Montana Tech’s game — solid perimeter shooting — was a big part of the blowout and the Orediggers finished 11-of-26 from behind the arc. John Chapman and Jake Miles combined for eight and if real life emulated NBA Jam, the ball would have started on fire when the second it touched their hands.
“It’s a staple of who we are. We have to make those perimeter shots,” Hiatt said. “We have to get consistent production from our guys underneath. The idea is that because we shoot the ball so well, they have a lot of space.”
The Orediggers made good use of that space and cut to the basket frequently. So well, in fact, that for just the second time this season, they took more free throws than their opponent.
Even so, Hiatt isn’t particularly perturbed by the fact his team hasn’t gotten to the line all that often during the early stretch of the year.
“It’s no different than any team in the NBA,” Hiatt said. “We’re not the Golden State Warriors by any stretch, but the Warriors don’t lead the NBA in free throw attempts per game. It’s not the style they play and it’s not our style either.
“We just want to be marginally close free throw wise and we’ll be in pretty good shape.”
Interestingly enough, Tech actually is shooting the ball better than Golden State this season, but the Warriors size might give them a slight edge if they were ever to come to Kelvin Sampson court.
The ‘Diggers lack of size was something that gave the Thunder a bit of an edge early in the game. Concordia is now 8-5 on the season and there were plenty of moments where they were giving Tech everything it could handle.
The Thunder return to the HPER Complex for a rematch at 4 p.m. on Thursday as part of a four game road trip split between Montana Tech and Montana State-Northern.
“One of the differences between American and Canadian basketball is that we haven’t played in a month,” Thunder head coach Reagan Wood said. “This trip is going to be nice and help get some of the rust off for us.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to show a little better tomorrow and be more succinct with our stuff.”