Dawgs sweep Rocky at home

M.P. Regan
Wednesday, February 10, 2021
On point

UMW senior guard Max Clark drives for a bucket during Western’s sweep of Rocky over the weekend. Terri Haverfield photo

The University of Montana Western men’s basketball team over the past week got downright offensive.

In the best sense of the term—at least for UMW’s players, coaches and fans, if not for their opponents.

“Two and a half years later,” said Mike Larsen, who became UMW’s head coach in 2018, and then brought Pat Jensen to the program as his assistant coach.

“It finally feels like Coach Jensen and I have made enough adjustments and seen the offense grow.”

That offense experienced a major growth spurt last week, when the Bulldogs poured in 277 points in their three contests against the University of Providence and Rocky Mountain College, averaging about 20 points per game better than they had during the season up to that point.

The Dawgs also fared better than usual in the results, going 2-1 for the week to improve their overall season mark to 5-9 and Frontier Conference record to 4-9.

UMW’s Tanner Haverfield rained a trey-luge upon the University of Providence last Wednesday in Great Falls, where the former BCHS great nailed nine, count ‘em nine, 3-pointers on his way to a college-career-high 31 points in UMW’s 118-110 road loss at the University of Providence in Great Falls.

That game went into two overtimes, the second coming after Haverfield hit a shot at the end of the first overtime from so far beyond the 3-point line he may have been beyond the state line.

“I am always ready to shoot. It was just how the defense played me, and my teammates were finding me. It just happened to work out that way,” said the junior of the long-range shooting tutorial he staged last Wednesday, when he drained 64.2 percent (9 of his 14) of his attempts from a variety of spots beyond the arc.

“I love playing with Tanner. He’s one of the best shooters I’ve ever played with,” said UMW point guard Max Clark, who had 8 assists against Providence, along with a dozen rebounds.

Tanner’s brother and teammate Michael Haverfield hit the biggest 3, three days later for Montana Western against Rocky Mountain College in Dillon.

The redshirt freshman took a pass near the right corner from a driving Jamal Stephenson and buried a 3 with under two seconds to play to bury the Battlin’ Bears, 77-74, on Saturday.

“We just set up a play, and I was open, and he passed it to me, and I let it fly,” said Michael Haverfield of his game-winner off a pass from Jamal Stephenson.

“It was set up for Jamal to go down the court and hit a layup, but help switched onto him and left me open. So, he kicked it out to me,” recounted the younger Haverfield, a redshirt freshman, of what led to his game winner, about five seconds after Rocky’s Darius Henderson had tied the score with a long 3-pointer on the other end of the court.

Stephenson paced UMW with 22 points on Saturday, when Clark registered a typical, wellrounded performance with 17 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists.

Clark proved especially potent on Sunday in a 90-80 UMW win over Rocky. Converting shots from all over the court in every manner of style, Clark went off for 36 points, hitting 16 of 21 field goal attempts (including 4 of 7 from deep) while somehow finding time to also dish 7 assists.

“I was just trying to be aggressive. They were trying to get their bigs on me, so I would just go by them to get to the rim,” said Clark, a 6-foot-3-inch senior with a sneaky, smooth, quick, long first step—and second and third steps—that can leave even the league’s swiftest point guards scratching their heads in his wake.

“The new tweaks in our offense have put Max probably in the best position possible,” said Larsen of offensive adjustments that put more emphasis on ball screens.

Clark continues to put teammates in the best positions possible to score.

“I just try to get the ball to guys in the right spots—their spots, because I pretty much know everybody’s favorite spots on our team. I try to get it to them there, so they can score,” said Clark, who leads the team in assists with 6.2 per game while serving as the Dawgs third-leading scorer (13.4 ppg) and top rebounder (5.2 rpg), and its co-leader in steals (1.1 spg).

“We changed a few things on offense. I feel like we’re smoother now. We’re just having more ball-screen actions,” said Clark of offensive adjustments installed just before the Bulldogs travelled to Great Falls last Wednesday to face league-leading Providence (10- 1), which was ranked 10th in the entire nation in last week’s NAIA Coach’s Poll.

“We only had one day going into Providence to try to make those tweaks, and then we scored 110, and the players eyes opened and saw it,” said Larsen of his team’s performance in Great Falls against Providence, which was led by former UMW standout Zaccheus Darko-Kelly (37 points, 14 rebounds and 8 assists) in part of his Frontier Conference Men’s Basketball Player of the Week effort.

“The biggest thing is we’ve got our best playmakers making players, we’ve got our shooters being shooters, and we’ve got our big men being big guys,” added Larsen, who got 31 points from Stephenson in Great Falls, along with 26 from Jalen Hodges, the team’s leading scorer and inside force.

“It helps a lot,” said Clark of Hodges’ powerful paint presence that forces perimeter defenders to cheat back toward him, leaving others open.

“I’ve been playing with Jalen for about ten years now—I grew up playing with him,” said Clark, who bonded with Hodges during their childhoods in Georgia and helped recruit him to come play at UMW.

“He’s literally like my brother. Our families are close. So, I know his shots are and try to get him the ball in his positions, so he can go score,” said Clark of Hodges, who leads UMW in scoring at 19.4 ppg and is first among the team’s starters with a .536 field-goal shooting percentage.

“Everybody is enjoying their roles and embracing their roles and being the best they can be,” said Larsen, who thrived on “70-points-and- under type games” during his days coaching at Dakota State before coming to UMW.

“So, we’re getting away from my roots and trying to score as many points as possible. I love it.”

The players are also loving the results in the win column. “It was nice to finally get a couple of wins after the losing streak we’ve been on,” said Michael Haverfield of UMW’s wins vs. Rocky that ended the Bulldogs’ seven-game skid.

“We’ve lost a lot of close games, so it was nice to finish those games out,” added Haverfield.

“We’re getting better at the right time of year,” said Larsen.

“We’re becoming really hard to stop offensively, and if we get to where we can lock-in defensively, I think we can compete with anyone in this league.”

Next up for the Bulldogs, a long cold road trip to Havre to take on Montana State University-Northern on Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.