DILLON – A lot of the talk going into Tuesday night’s Frontier Conference opener at Montana Western was about Bulldogs’ junior guard, Brianna King, and the school-record 37 points she put up in a win last week in Caldwell, Idaho.
The topic took a definite turn by the time the Bulldogs secured a 64-56 win over Montana Tech at Straugh Gymnasium.
The Bulldogs turned up the defensive pressure and were able to take advantage of a Montana Tech team that was simply having an off-night.
The teams were tied at 33 at halftime but 14 turnovers in the second half spelled doom for the Orediggers.
“We worked on a press-breaker but we didn’t do it like we practiced it,” Montana Tech coach Carly Sanon said. “We didn’t come to the ball and when you’re pressured, you have to come to the ball. We just waited and they were able to intercept it.”
Offensively, King didn’t disappoint. The current Frontier Conference Player of the Week was held to two points in the first quarter but that number jumped to 16 by halftime. She finished with a game-high 24 points.
King, as expected, was also instrumental in drawing Tech defenders toward her. That left Britt Cooper with open looks, most of which she was able to take advantage.
Cooper, from Harrison, was the only other Western player to score in double-figures. She finished with 15 points.
Cierra Lamey and Sierra Bignell added seven points apiece.
The game lived up to most expectations, with two good teams battling in the early going.
The Orediggers used an offensive surge early in the second quarter that was capped by a 3-point basket by Kourtney Coverdell that gave Montana Tech a 25-16 lead.
It was then the Bulldogs’ turn.
Western responded to their nine-point deficit, their biggest of the game, by scoring the game’s next 13 points.
King started the rally with a basket and added a pair of free throws on Western’s next possession.
Another basket by King, followed with one from Darby Schye, cut the Orediggers’ lead to 25-24 with 4:56 left in the half.
Tori Anderson put the Bulldogs in front with a 3-point basket, her only points of the game.
The Orediggers deficit grew to four points with 2:52 left in the half but they tied the score on baskets by Coverdell and Hailey Crawford.
The second half started with basket by King but the Tech used baskets from Shay Potter and Monica Landdeck, on a running jumper, to take a 37-35 lead. Sadly for the Orediggers, it was their biggest lead of the second half.
The Bulldogs used some of the Orediggers’ mistakes to get its transition gear going. They built a 50-44 margin after three quarters and opened up a 10-point lead in the fourth before settling for the win.
“Offensively I thought we got going in transition and that was probably the difference for us,” Western coach Lindsay Woolley said. “We were able to get some easy ones on transition.”
Landdeck led the Orediggers with 11 points and Potter netted 10 but most of the other players on the team fell below their season averages.
Woolley liked what he saw from his team’s defensive pressure and admitted that it’s not really one of its strengths.
“I think we can do it a little bit but it’s not necessarily how we do it all the time,” he said. “It’s one of the tools in our box but it’s not something we hang our hats on. Sometimes the game dictates different decisions and you throw things at the wall and see what sticks. I don’t know if it was us or them but they did turn the ball over a few times.”
The Orediggers have time to make adjustments and will prepare to host Lewis-Clark State on Saturday at the HPER Complex.
“Those are all things we can fix,” Sanon said. “We had 14 turnovers in the second half. It was a battle. It was a great game. But we just had too many turnovers in the third and fourth quarters.”
The Montana Western men’s team flexed its collective muscle in Tuesday’s nightcap, coming away with an 84-66 win over Tech.
Marcus Payne picked the right time for the best game of his career, finishing with a game-high 23 points and 10 rebounds. He did most of his damage early, helping the Bulldogs open up a 27-12 lead midway through the first half.
Payne was spurred on by the fact that it was the first conference game of the season and because he used to play for Montana Tech.
“It feels great. There is always a lot of emotion when we play Tech because I used to play for them,” he said. “It’s a big rivalry game and the first conference game. This is where it really starts. These are the games we want to be at our peak for. I think we came out and did that.”
Dom Robinson, who set the tone with a 3 to start the game, finished with 15 points while Brandon Jones and Kooper Kidgell had 14 apiece.
Montana Tech got 17 points from both Nick Fitts and Derrius Collins, both of whom came off of the bench.