Dawgs win two in OT

Montana Western senior forward Jake Owsley flies towards a slam dunk against Lewis-Clark State last weekend at UMW’s Straugh Gym. Owlsey averaged 20 points and 13.5 rebounds in a sweep of Tech and LCSC to earn Frontier Conference “Player of the Week” honors. Jess Alberi photo

 

During the 2013 portion of their 2013–14 season, the University of Montana Western’s men’s basketball team ran a long, tough gauntlet of games—most against tough opponents, most on the road and most on consecutive days—to prepare for the Frontier Conference battles awaiting them in 2014.

If their hard-fought conference wins over archrival Montana Tech and defending conference regular-season champs Lewis & Clark State on consecutive nights at home this past week to start 2014 are any indication, the strategy might be paying off for the Bulldogs (9-5; 2-1).

And the Bulldogs faithful may need to go to some sort of equally rugged fan boot camp over the next month to prepare for all the thrills and stress that lay ahead.

Maazin Butler nailed a three-point shot with 1.5 seconds on Friday left to lift Western over Lewis & Clark State College, 74-71, in Straugh Gymnasium, where Western had prevailed, 94-91, the night before in a bruising, double-overtime encounter with rival Montana Tech after Butler hit a pull-up jumper in the lane from ten feet to tie the game with 1.7 seconds left in regulation.

Western center Jake Owsley proved immense in both games, particularly on Thursday, when he bludgeoned Tech with 16 rebounds and 25 points on 10 of 16 shooting from the field while showcasing his improved low-post game to go along with all the other skills and attributes that earned him first-team All-Frontier Conference honors last season and this preseason.

Owsley provided the final, decisive push in the back-and-forth Tech contest when he got fouled driving hard to the basket with 37 seconds left in the second OT, and then converted both free throws to put Western up for good, 93-91.

Tech missed three chances to tie or go ahead on its next possession, which finally ended when Western reserve forward Zach Smith got a rebound and got fouled. Smith made one of two free throws, and Dawg guard Jordan Overstreet then flustered Tech’s attempts to get a last shot off.

It was bitter end on a bitter cold night for Tech and its ever-vocal travelling supporters, who saw their Orediggers lead for all but a few minutes of the second half and build the game’s only double-digit lead, 69-59, with 7:14 remaining.

Western made a brief fun, but Tech answered quickly to rebuild their lead to 8 points with 4:29 left, and looked in control behind the trio of Adam Greger, Antonio Snow and Bryan Bock, all of whom finished with 19 points.

But led by their own high-scoring trio of Owsley (25 points), Butler (23) and Overstreet (21) on offense—and on the other end of the court by a rotating cast of defenders that included Smith, Vince Turk, Kris Castro, Tyler Miller, Connor Woodill, Kurtis Parsons and Shyke Smalls—the Bulldogs forced their way back into the game, and then sent it to overtime on Butler’s late shot in the lane.

The Dawgs’ superior depth showed up on the offensive end the next night in their decisive, 26-12 advantage in bench scoring during their 3-point win over Lewis & Clark State.

Nackup freshman guard Smalls chipped in with a critical 10 points against the Warriors while flashing excellent finishing skills at the rim, along his usual shutdown defense that pretty much kept his man from getting anywhere near the lane, much less the rim.

Overtreet contributed 8 points and led the team with 4 assists coming off the bench, after a long stretch as a starter that had dated back to 2012.

The junior guard, who’s been battling the painful foot ailment plantar fasciitis all season, erased any doubts about whether he would embrace his new reserve role during the introductions on Thursday, when the Three Forks product acted as the last man in the line greeting Western’s starters with enthusiastic high fives and chest bumps.

“Jordan is a great team player, and he will do whatever it takes to help us win,” said Western Head Coach Steve Keller.

The leading scorer in the NAIA, Warriors guard E.J. Farris got close to his 21 point per game average with 18, but his Western defenders harassed him into a 5 of 15 shooting night from the floor, where he has hit over 50 percent of his shots on the season.

Starting guard Butler led the Dawgs with 18 points while shooting almost 50 percent from the field, and Castro marshaled Western’s passing efforts with 5 assists.

Playing through early foul trouble, Owlsey recorded another double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds against LCSC, and added a pair of blocks to pad his conference-leading average of 1.7 swats per game.

The effort against LCSC, along with his big game the night before against Tech, wrapped up Frontier Conference Men’s Basketball Player of the Week honors for Owsley.

Next up for Western, a trip to Havre tomorrow to take on the MSU Northern Lights, who are also 2-1 in the Frontier Conference and lead the league with an overall record of 14-3.

Western then returns home on Saturday to take on Carroll College (5-10; 0-3) at 7:30 p.m. in Straugh Gymnasium. The Carroll game will be local hoops fans’ last chance to catch the Dawgs in Straugh Gymnasium before Western head back onto the road for the rest of January.

DAWG BYTES

**So much for comparables. Though Montana Western won each of its games this past week over Montana Tech and Lewis & Clark State College by just 3 points, LCSC buried Tech by 45 points, 105-60, when the two teams met in December.

**Western’s Jordan Overstreet scored all but 4 of his 21 points against Montana Tech on Thursday from the free throw line, where he shot 17 of 19.

**Deja....Phew! LCSC reserve guard Joseph Moquino—who came off the bench to drain five straight field goals from beyond the arc on his way to a game-leading and career-high 20 points in the Warriors win over Western last January—came off the bench Friday and nailed his first shot, a three-pointer. But Western shut down Moquino the rest of the way and kept the Albuquerque native from reviving his role as the surprise difference maker. 

**Montana Tech Head Coach Patrick O’Herron and his assistants on Thursday employed an interesting and unusual timeout m.o. by huddling together about ten feet onto the court while their players rehydrated on the bench, and then joining their players for a huddle by the bench for the rest of the timeout to discuss the strategy they came up with in the coach’s huddle.

**Fashion Statement of the Week: The Oredigger green coloring Montana Tech Assistant Coach Chris Stetzner added to his hair for Thursday’s game.

**Out-of-Fashion Statement of the Week: At one point in the first half of the Western-Tech game, only one player on the court was wearing white socks, and blacks and grays outnumbered the traditional white as players’ sock color of choice all game long.

**A big guy who excels at doing the little things to win, Western center Vince Turk used all of his 6-8 frame to keep Tech from getting an effective inbound pass and subsequent shot at winning at the end of the first overtime on Thursday.

**The Bulldogs’ starting point guard for much of last season, Gabe Rucker, who has been out of the starting lineup while battling injury problems for most of this season, started against Montana Tech and Lewis & Clark State, scoring 11 points and dishing 6 assists in the games. Keller expects Rucker to remain in the starting lineup, along with Maazin Butler, Jake Owsley, Kris Castro and Tyler Miller, who has also recently returned to first five after recovering from his own injury problems.

**Rylan Shaw, a freshman guard from Billings Skyview, who made his first appearance for the Dawgs against the University of Lethbridge the previous weekend, is expected to stay on a Bulldog varsity roster that will also include (in addition to Butler, Owsley, Castro, Miller, Rucker and Overstreet), Connor Woodill, Shyke Smalls, Kurtis Parsons, Vince Turk, Wes Knox, Tanner Hupka and Zach Smith.

**Smith has emerged in the last two weeks as a late, unlikely addition to the Dawgs’ regular rotation. The redshirt sophomore had played only sparingly until his standout effort off the bench against MidAmerican Nazarene on Dec. 27, when he scored 7 points and reenergized his team, according to Keller.

“Zach deserves a lot of credit. We had been in kind of a funk where we hadn’t been playing hard before the Lethbridge game,” said Keller, whose team hadn’t won in December before its 77-57 victory over the University of Lethbridge in Billings on Dec. 28 in a game Smith started.

“Our other guys saw how hard Zach played against MNU and realized they weren’t playing hard. I started Zach against Lethbridge because I felt he deserved that honor.”

The sophomore forward honored Keller’s continued faith in him, which saw the coach insert Smith into the lineup on multiple occasions in the late, tense going on Thursday, when he grabbed a couple of key rebounds in extra time and scored the Dawgs’ final point in the double-overtime win over Tech.