Montana Western men’s hoops scores another sweep

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

University of Montana Western Men’s Basketball Coach Mike Larsen commented after his team’s home sweep of Rocky Mountain College the previous weekend that his Bulldogs were “getting hot at just the right time of season.”

Last weekend during their season’s most frigid road trip, the Bulldogs heated up further by cooking up a two-game sweep of Montana State University-Northern in Havre.

And UMW’s Max Clark went downright nuclear.

The Western senior earned Frontier Conference Men’s Player of the Week honors by torching MSUN for 58 points while still finding time to grab a dozen rebounds and distribute 17 assists in the two wins over the Northern Lights.

“Max has really been clicking,” said UMW Head Coach Mike Larsen of the usual passfirst point guard who’s heady, unselfish play has helped foster a team spirit that’s lit the way to a brighter future for the Bulldogs (6-9).

“But Max would be the first to tell you he doesn’t score all those points without great ball screens from Tanner Haverfield and Jok Jok and Jalen Hodges,” said Larsen of the unsung work done by three of his forwards who helped set up Clark for many of his baskets this past weekend—when, as always, Clark continued to help set up teammates for their baskets.

Clark turned in one of the more distinguished performances in recent Bulldog history on Saturday, when the Georgia native led UMW to an 82-71 victory by scoring 39 points (on 17 of 23 shooting from the field) while hauling down 7 rebounds and dishing a half-dozen assists.

On Sunday, the 6-foot-4-inch point guard provided the assist on the Bulldogs’ biggest basket of the weekend—and of the season, so far.

Clark shoveled a pass to the left wing to UMW’s Jamal Stephenson, who then cooly swished a 3-pointer with less than a second left on the clock to gain the Bulldogs a thrilling 65- 63 victory on Sunday and secure their weekend sweep of MSUN.

That winning bucket came at the end of a frenetic exchange. Following a deflected pass and scrum for the ball at the edge of the lane on the other end of the court, UMW’s Carlos Allen secured the ball and then got it to Clark, who dribbled into Lights territory before shifting the ball to Stephenson just in time for the game-winner.

“All five guys looked at me and said, ‘Coach, we’re going to get a stop and go win this game,” recalled Larsen of an exchange with his players during a break in the game’s final minute when his team was down a point with Northern in possession.

“And after that, I didn’t say anything. They started communicating with each other on what they needed to do to get the win. They knew they needed one stop and they were going to go get the win. And that’s exactly what they did. It was a very proud moment for me as a coach to see that growth in our players and in our program, knowing where we were two years ago at this point to where we are now,” said Larsen, whose team is riding a four-game winning streak he sees as a potential turning point of his third season as UMW’s head coach.

“We lost six games in a row,” recalled Larsen of a slide that preceded the Bulldogs’ current winning streak.

“We could have laid down, but these guys truly do love the opportunity to play for each other and Dillon and Montana Western. They’ve been improving steadily, and now everyone is finally starting to get to see it come together.”

Next up for the Bulldogs, a return trip to bountiful—at least in terms of points.

The Bulldogs travel today to play the University of Providence in Great Falls, where UMW fell, 118-110, two weeks ago to league-leading Argos (12-2) in double overtime, in the Bulldogs’ highest scoring game of the season.

UMW will then close out its regular season this weekend with a home doubleheader against second-place Carroll College (11-5).

See next week’s Dillon Tribune to find out the results of the Bulldogs’ final three regular-season games, and where those results place them in the bracket for the Frontier Conference tourney set to start Feb. 25.