BUTTE — It's still December, so it may be too soon to classify this as a "turnaround season."
But Montana Tech made a strong case for the label on Thursday at the HPER Complex.
Five Orediggers scored in double digits as Tech used a late run to fend off Concordia University 79-68 and improve to 8-5, already eclipsing last season's win total and matching its win total from the season before.
Tech hung on for the win after routing the Thunder 98-63 on Wednesday.
"We've already surpassed our win total from last year and we haven't even gotten to January," said second-year Tech head coach Adam Hiatt. "We're definitely taking a step in the right direction.
"We're not a perfect team by any stretch but I think we have the capability to be very competitive every night. We've just got to be on edge."
Jake Miles led Tech with 15 points, Chris O'Neill scored 13 and Derrius Collins added 12.
Dylan Pannabecker put up 11 points — and also led the Orediggers with seven rebounds — and Trent Molesworth added 10, including a 3-pointer with 1:53 left to ice the game.
Tech was never really challenged in Wednesday's contest. Thursday's rematch proved to be a tougher test.
The Orediggers built a 10-point first half lead off a 3-pointer from John Chapman and then held off Concordia as it tied the game three times and took the lead for one possession. Tech was able to carry a 43-37 lead into the break after scoring the final six points of the half.
Hiatt said his team was prepared for a tightly-fought game.
"That's what we were expecting, that's what (Concordia) does when it plays back-to-back games," said Hiatt. "They're always better on the second night."
A flurry of missed shots from Tech allowed the Thunder to tie the game twice in the second half before the Orediggers used solid defense, 11 free throw points in the final nine minutes and a 10-0 run in the last four minutes to put the game away.
While Tech managed to emerge with a win, the game was a little close for comfort for Hiatt but he said he was still pleased that his team found a way to get the win.
"I was particularly proud of our guys because they gutted it out and found a way to win against a team that really had us on the ropes for a while," said Hiatt.
The victory — and the way that the Orediggers scrapped for it — was a promising sign as Tech gears up for conference play. The Orediggers open the conference portion of the season at home on Thursday against MSU-Northern.
"I felt like our guys persevered and showed a little bit of grit tonight," said Hiatt. "That's huge for the growth of our team because every game in the conference is going to be like this."