BUTTE – The Montana Tech men’s basketball team had a pretty good idea that Friday night’s opponent wouldn’t be able to keep up.
The Orediggers didn’t care.
Montana Tech was opening its 2017-18 season and was more concerned about itself than its opponent.
A lot of that was concern was put to rest in a 114-56 win over the Centurions at the HPER Complex.
Four Montana Tech players scored in double-figures, led by Dylan Pannabecker, who scored 16 points. John Chapman followed with 15, while Nick Fitts and Trent Molesworth had 14 and 13, respectively.
“The game was pretty similar to what other Frontier teams had been doing (against Yellowstone Christian) so we figured we would do that,” Montana Tech coach Adam Hiatt said. “Our whole idea was we wanted to have good sharpness and good energy and focus. This was our first real opponent for the year.
“In the first half I thought we were pretty focused and pretty dialed in, even though we had some discipline breakdowns that we like to call them.”
It didn’t take long for the Orediggers to establish their dominance over a smaller and team – in height and roster size.
Yellowstone Christian’s basketball program was caught off-guard in July when head coach Leonard Epps resigned to take a job in Nebraska. That left assistant coach Isaiah Boxell to find the right formula needed to make the Centurions (0-3) successful.
The seven players who saw minutes on the court for YCC on Friday night represented five countries, including the United States.
Ben Bighorn (Culbertson) led all scorers with 18 points.
Jake Miles, a transfer from Salt Lake Community College scored the first two baskets for Montana Tech and in doing so, gave the Orediggers the lead for good.
His first 3-pointer gave Tech a 3-0 lead, which was tied by a basket and free throw by Pierre Fansey (Haiti) moments later.
Miles hit another 3 that gave the Orediggers the lead for good.
Miles second 3-pointer was the beginning of a 27-9 Montana Tech run that gave the Orediggers a 30-12 advantage.
Tech clamped down defensively as well in the first half, holding the Centurions to only two field goals in the final 10 ½ minutes of the first half. Those baskets, by Harry Sun (Taiwan) and Fansey, came in the final 1:02 of the half.
The Orediggers took a 66-24 lead into halftime and were able to coast to the win.
“We scored more points in the first half than we did in most games last year so it’s kind of a different thing,” Hiatt said. “We have a lot of guys that can make shots and do some plays. It’s nice to see it go through and get some confidence but we have our work cut out for us coming up. It’s a good starting point. We hope we can build on it.”
Hiatt, though not to the same degree as Boxell, is also trying to do some mixing and matching of his own. He is blessed with a core of returning players, who saw adequate playing time last season, but he also has to make things work with a stream of players who are new or fairly new to the program.
“We expected good leadership from guys like Chris O’Neill and John Chapman, another senior, and Kale Guldseth and those guys. We know what to expect from them. From our 11 new players, we don’t know what to expect from day to day. That’s the hardest challenge when you have new players, to get them to assimilate what the expectations are for the program.
“Yeah, (Friday night) was good but we’re going to practice (Saturday) morning and I don’t know what I’m going to get. That’s the biggest challenge that we’re going to have all year long.”
At least off of the court.
The Orediggers will find a whole new set of challenges when they travel to Salt Lake City to play against the University of Utah in an exhibition game.
Boxell knows that the going will be tough for now but he is intent on keeping his players focused.
“I like our effort, typically,” he said. “We usually play pretty hard. That’s what we have to keep focusing on, playing hard and getting better. They’re good kids and they’re fighters. We just have to keep that mentality and figure out how to get better.”
MONTANA WESTERN 125, SALISH KOOTENAI 65
Marcus Payne scored 16 points, Brandon Jones had a double-double and the Bulldogs rolled to a victory over the Bison in Westerns' first game of the season.
Western led 58-32 at the half.
Jones hauled in 11 rebounds and notched 14 points. Kooper Kidgell and Derrek Durocher each added 15 points for Western.
The Bison were paced by Brinson Aquino with 16 points. Zachary mills led Salish Kootenai with seven rebounds.
Western takes on Dickinson State on Friday.
MONTANA WESTERN 84, SALISH KOOTENAI 49
Britt Cooper notched a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds to help lift the Bulldogs to a win over the Bison.
Briana King led Western in scoring with 13 points and Jill Jacobs added 12. King also grabbed seven rebounds. Salish Kootenai's top scorer was Whitney Malatere with 15 points and Amberlie Jones led the Bison with six rebounds.
Western will take on Montana State University Billings on Wednesday in Billings.