Dawgs gain unusual split

M.P. Regan
Wednesday, January 12, 2022
Shake, rattle and steamroll

UMW’s Colter Miller makes his way to the basket during the Bulldogs game against Montana State University-Northern on Saturday in Straugh Gymnasium. M.P. Regan photo

You gotta take wins anyway you can in the Frontier Conference.

Because ones that seem in hand can get cruelly snatched away in the last minute.

The University of Montana Western men’s basketball team last week experienced both outcomes, through an unexpectedly easy road victory and a particularly wrenching home defeat.

On Thursday, the Bulldogs notched a key away win over defending league champs the University of Providence— without having to leave home.

The 2-0 victory came via forfeit, with the game “canceled due to COVID issues” that left the Argos too short of players to compete, according to a press release from the Frontier Conference.

Led by former, longtime UMW Head Coach Steve Keller, Providence took the Frontier Conference title last season and looked strong contenders again for it in the 2021–22 campaign—and a particularly brutal road opponent last week.

But laid low by health issues, the Argos fell to 1-3 in the conference with a pair of losses last week. Though the team will likely surge as it recovers from its bout with COVID and reaps more rewards from the recent transfer of Brendan Howard, a former two-time USA Today All-USA Montana Player of the Year during his high school playing days in Great Falls before he headed off to Eastern Washington University. The powerful 6-foot-6-inch Howard scored 16 points against Montana Tech in his Argo debut on Saturday.

MSU-Northern looks increasingly like a real threat to take the league this season, as further evidenced by their hard-fought, 68-65 triumph over Montana Western in Dillon on Saturday that raised the Northern Lights league mark to 3-1.

MSUN’s David Harris notched the game winner, brushing off some contact on his shooting elbow to hit a highly contested jump shot from the left elbow with 7.7 seconds remaining, then converting the “and-one” foul shot that followed to set the final score.

Harris scored a dozen points and added a half-dozen assists for the Lights, who were led by his fellow returning all-league selection, Macio McCadney (19 points).

MSUN’s 6-foot-6-inch forward Jesse Keltner recorded 15 points and a gamehigh 11 rebounds on Thursday on his way to gaining Frontier Conference Player of the Week honors, with the breakout junior’s 20-point, 7-rebounds effort two days earlier against Rocky Mountain bolstering his case for the award.

Still, MSUN never got far ahead of Montana Western in Saturday’s extraordinarily tight contest, which failed to produce a lead of more than 7 points throughout. The margin shriveled to 3 points or less across the final four and a half minutes.

A steal by UMW forward Tanner Haverfield and foul shot by teammate Jamal Stephenson granted the Bulldogs a 2-point lead with just over a minute remaining and the Bulldog faithful offering hearty vocal support in their team’s first home game in Straugh Gymnasium in over a month.

But the Lights shut out the Bulldogs for the final minute, while getting 5 points from Harris, including 3 on his game winner.

Seven Bulldogs contributed to their team’s balanced attack, with forward Jalen Hodges using his superior strength and positioning inside to score 15 to lead the hosts, who got a dozen points from Stephenson and 10 out of Colter Miller.

The loss on Saturday reset the Bulldogs overall season record to 12-7 and Frontier Conference mark to 1-3.

Next up for the Dawgs, a couple weeks on the road.

UMW will travel to Billings on Thursday to take on Rocky Mountain College (8-8, 1-3), which last weekend gained its first league win of the season with a stunning upset of the secondranked team in the entire NAIA, Carroll College.

UMW will head to Helena to play Carroll (16-2, 3-1) on Jan. 20.

In between the Rocky and Carroll games, the Western men will take a short trip north to Butte to battle Montana Tech (14-5, 3-1) at 4 p.m. in the HPER Complex on Saturday, Jan. 15.