BUTTE —Behind 19 points and eight rebounds from Taylor England, Montana Tech was able to slip past Montana Western 71-60 to grab its first Frontier Conference win of the season.
Nate Ward added 16 points, six steals and five rebounds as the Orediggers got their first win over the Bulldogs under head coach Adam Hiatt.
The win moves Tech to 9-3 (1-1 Frontier) while Western is 3-4 (0-2) through the first week of conference play. It was the first time in 10 games that Tech has beaten Western.
“Any conference win is a good win,” Hiatt said. “We have a lot of adversity we’re dealing with our roster, injuries and health things.”
Despite playing just eight players (with one playing under four minutes) the Orediggers were able to grind out the win after the Bulldogs pulled it close late in the first half.
Leading by just four at the break, Tech came out of the locker room with an 18-2 run over the first eight minutes of the second half to take control of the game. While the Bulldogs were able to fight back and get the game to single digits late, they were never able to overcome the early second-half knockdown.
“They’re such a good defensive team … they just wear on you,” first-year Montana Western head coach Mike Larsen said. “Over the course of a 40 minute game, their defense, their system, they’re very well coached.
“I thought we made some careless, unforced turnovers.”
The adjustments Hiatt made in the second half also helped stem the rain of 3-pointers that dropped for Western in the first half. After going 5-of-9 from distance in the first half, the Bulldogs were just 1-of-9 over the final 20 minutes.
Those long rebounds also helped Tech get a few points in transition. The Orediggers hit 27-of-54 (50 percent) from the field in an overall efficient night.
One massive boon for Tech has been having Ward back over the past couple games. The sophomore East Arizona College transfer missed several games earlier this year and seems to be coming back into rhythm. He hit just six of his 16 field goal attempts against Western, but had three assists and zero turnovers.
“He’s rusty right now, but aggressive,” Hiatt said. “If we would have lost this game with Nate Ward playing the way he did and missing shots or whatever, great. I wouldn’t have been happy with the loss, but we would have gone back and said, ‘that’s how we got to play.’
“He took great shots, played the right way and led our team. He’s a great player.”
Hiatt said he should have most of his roster back by the end of December, including combo guard Troy Owens Jr. who has been sidelined for nearly a month.
The Orediggers will host the University of Alberta-Augustana on Dec. 8, while the Bulldogs head to Arizona for three games in the Dec. 15-17 Cactus Classic.