Dawgs bite back!

Take out Carroll in 2nd
Western’s Connor Woodill slams home two of his team-leading 17 points late in the Bulldogs’ 75-66 win over Carroll College on Saturday in Dillon. M.P. Regan photo

 

Just when the Dawgs looked like they might hit bottom, the University of Montana Western men’s basketball team rediscovered its egalitarian winning ways and climbed to a 75-66 come-from-behind victory over Carroll College on Saturday in Dillon.

Western reserves Shyke Smalls, Connor Woodill and Kurtis Parsons shot a collective 15 of 18 from the field and led a second half surge that bulldozed the Bulldogs out of a low-scoring scrum against the visiting Saints and onto a clear path to their first relatively comfortable victory of the Frontier Conference season.

The Bulldogs’ big win came with their star big man, Jake Owsley, relegated to the bench by the flu—and two nights after Western (10-6; 3-2) slogged to its second loss of the young conference season, a low-scoring, 61-52 setback on the road at MSU Northern when the Lights took charge late in the second half in Havre.

On Saturday, Western began its critical run early in the second half when Parsons buried 4 straight three-pointers in under 3 minutes during a 12-2 run that brought the home crowd in Straugh Gymnasium to its feet and Western from 3 points down to last-place Carroll (5-12; 0-5) into a lead they would not yield the rest of the way.

“I thought we played a great second half against Carroll,” said Western Head Coach Steve Keller, who was forced to make do without the ailing Owsley after halftime.

“We had three bench guys really pick up the slack,” added Keller of Smalls, Parsons and Woodill, who shot a collective 7 of 9 on treys.

“They hit some huge threes in the second half—that was the big difference in the game,” said first-year Carroll College Head Coach Carson Cunningham.

The performance featured a huge shift in Western’s offense, which this season has relied on Owsley and starting guards Maazin Butler and Jordan Overstreet, who have provided over half of the Dawgs’ scoring, but saw teammates pour in 80 percent of Western’s points on Saturday.

“This was a really good win for our whole team—moving forward, we know we can win even when our big man is down,” said Parsons, who finished with 14 points.

“The whole team knew it had to step up to get the win,” declared the sophomore forward from Great Falls. “And Connor Woodill really stepped up.”

Two nights after he never even got onto the floor, Woodill contributed a team-leading and college-career high of 17 points, all but 4 of those points coming in the second half, when the swingman out of Missoula hit a trio of treys.

The last of Woodill’s three-pointers put Western up 12 points with 2:41 to play and put the game all but out of reach—a term Woodill literally embodied less than two minutes later when he skywalked to a breakaway jam that put a stylish, high-altitude exclamation point on the Dawgs’ win.

Smalls, the 5-9 freshman point guard, did a moderate amount of everything almost 

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all half long, scoring 10 points, pulling down 5 rebounds and co-leading the team’s  perimeter defense and passing, as he notched 5 assists, along with Kris Castro, who contributed 11 points to become the only Western starter to reach double figures in scoring on the night.

Starting forward Tyler Miller led Western on the boards, with 7 rebounds, and added several key heads-up plays that didn’t show up on the stat sheet, as did backup center Vince Turk, with his usual supersized hustle.

Western’s advantage in shooting from the line against Carroll popped off the stat sheet nearly as dramatically as the field goal shooting of Smalls, Parsons and Woodill. The Dawgs nailed 25 of 28 free throws in the game, 16 of 17 in the second half.

“We’ll take 25 of 28—that’s pretty good,” declared Keller of his team’s nearly 90-percent shooting performance from the line against Carroll, which has hit over 80 percent of its free throws this season. “And they were the top free throw shooting team in the nation coming in.”

Western shot under 70 percent from the charity stripe against MSU Northern on Thursday, when the Dawgs clanged nearly 70 percent of their field goal attempts.

Still, Western led at halftime, 26-24, of the low-scoring affair, and led well into the second half before a late Northern run took the Lights to a 9-point win.

Butler, Owsley and Overstreet all scored in double figures, but just barely, tallying a respective 13, 12 and 12 for a game in which Western managed to record just 3 assists.

“I thought we played pretty good defense against Northern,” said Keller, whose team limited the Lights to 18 of 44 shooting from the field but only managed to hit 18 of 50 of its own shots.

“We were up 35 to 28 in the second half, and then their center hit back-to-back threes. And then it just came down to the last three or four minutes, and who made their shots and who didn’t—and Northern hit their shots.”

DAWG BYTES

• Home court disadvantage. All but two of Western’s home games this season will be played on days when Western students are scheduled to be on break, an unfortunate coincidence that has limited the crowds at the usually packed Straugh Gymnasium.

• With the the Dawg Pound all but empty on Saturday night, a trio of young local Bulldog fans—Garrett Tackett, Sawyer Tackett and Braxtyn Lagge—picked up the slack, busting moves and cheering wildly in Dawg red t-shirts to help inspire Western to victory. Garrett also snared a mini-frisbee during a halftime contest to win a pizza from Stageline Pizza.

• Tied at 22 going into the locker room on Saturday, both Carroll and Western came out and scored at least twice as many points in the second half as they had in the first half. Almost 70 percent of the game’s scoring occurred after halftime.

• Western’s starting point guard, Gabe Rucker, got whistled for a pair of non-shooting fouls on defense within 11 seconds on Saturday, forcing  him to the bench in the first half against Carroll. His replacement, Shyke Smalls, got whistled for a non-shooting defensive foul 7 seconds later and had accumulated 3 personal fouls within 2 minutes of entering the game—a burden that fortunately didn’t slow the lightning quick freshman guard during his critical second-half performance.

• Coming into the game against Carroll, only one other player on Western’s roster besides Jordan Overstreet, Maazin Butler or Jake Owsley had led the Dawgs in scoring for a game this season.