Montana Western men top Rocky, edged by Montana Tech

By 
M.P. Regan
Wednesday, January 6, 2021
Max Effect

Point guard Max CLark takes it to the hole for 2 of his 10 points in the UMW loss to Montana Tech. Teri Haverfield photo

For a squad with a lot of new players navigating a season of delays and detours and perpetual uncertainties, the University of Montana Western men’s basketball team sure looks like a decidedly cohesive, fun-loving group on a steady climb upward.

“Our players are enjoying it and having a lot of fun. I’m enjoying it, too,” said UMW Head Coach Mike Larsen on Monday, shortly after his Bulldogs earned a 73-64 road win in Billings over Frontier Conference rival Rocky Mountain College to improve their overall record to 2-1 and even their conference mark at 1-1.

“I thought we played really, really well. That was maybe the best game we’ve played this year,” said Larsen of the victory.

The Bulldogs played particularly well during an approximately three-minute stretch across the midway of Monday’s second half, going on a 13-2 run to go up by 10 points—a cushion that protected them from the Battlin’ Bears the rest of the way.

Jamal Stephenson proved perfect from beyond the arc in the second half on the way to shooting 4 of 5 from downtown.

“He wasn’t scoring early, but he kept playing, and finished as our leading scorer, with 16 points,” said Larsen of Western’s 6-foot-5-inch southpaw marksman.

“Jamal is a great scorer—he knows that,” said Larsen of the Illinois native who joined the team as a junior transfer this season and has emerged as its leading scorer and talisman.

“But the best thing about him is he’s a great kid, I think our guys feed off his energy.”

The Dawgs also got a big boost down the stretch from another newcomer to the team, sophomore transfer Carlos Allen, who contributed six rebounds and seven points during Monday’s second half.

“Carlos Allen stepped up big at just the right time,” said Larsen of his 6-foot-4-inch guard out of basketball hotbed Georgia.

The Bulldogs once again got solid contributions from Montana products Michael Haverfield and Colter Miller, who each scored a dozen points and together pulled down ten rebounds.

“His growth over the course of his redshirt season and so far this year has been exponential,” said Larsen of the redshirt freshman Haverfield.

“He does a lot of things that don’t show up in stats,” said Larsen of the little hustle plays that add up to big dividends that both Michael Haverfield and his older brother Tanner consistently make for the Bulldogs.

The younger Haverfield is also a budding master of an aspect of the game that fans rarely get to see effectively employed in today’s game—the pull-up, mid-range jump shot.

“He’s one of few guys on our team allowed to shoot that shot,” laughed Larsen of a fieldgoal option that has fallen out of favor in recent decades due to the rise in shooting percentages and point production from beyond the arc—and which former Bulldog Stephen Mc-Call employed with great skill to help him become an NAIA All-American in 2015.

“But when he shoots one, all of us know it’s going in,” added Larsen of the midrange prowess of Haverfield, a former Beaverhead County High School great.

The Bulldogs, whose roster had proven relatively thin across the grind of recent seasons, continued to get meaningful input over the past week from a wide range of players.

“We have good depth now; we have 10 to 11 guys we can feel comfortable putting on the floor at any point in the game,” said Larsen, who got contributions from across the stat sheet Monday by guard Max Clark, (ten points, eight assists and eight rebounds).

“I thought our entire team played well,” said Larsen of Monday’s Bulldog winning performance, an assessment he also assigned to the Dawgs’ admirable losing effort against league-leading Montana Tech in Dillon last Wednesday, Dec. 30.

The game proved a reverse mirror image of Monday’s, with the Bulldogs scoring 50 points in the first half to take a nine-point lead at the break, before Tech rode an outstanding performance from Sindou Diallo (35 points on 10 of 12 shooting from the field) to a 13-point advantage in the second half that ushered the Orediggers to the 88-84 win.

Stephenson led UMW against Tech with 20 points, while Clark notched 19 points and a dozen assists, and Michael Haverfield recorded 17 points and a teamhigh seven rebounds in the highscoring, highly entertaining.

“I thought we played really well,” said Larsen of his team’s efforts against archrival Tech, which currently boasts a leagueleading three wins that include a pair of triumphs over Carroll College—the team that went to the finals of the last NAIA tourney in 2019 and was regarded as favorites in the Frontier Conference this season.

“But we had some foul trouble,” said Larsen, whose platoon of bigs each got hit with at least four fouls during the contest.

Montana Western lost its biggest big, sophomore Grayson Nelson, to a scary fall after he’d played just over three minutes in the first half.

The 6-foot-7-inch Nelson leapt up to grab a defensive rebound under pressure near the baseline and fell onto his shoulder with a loud thud.

Nelson’s effort on the play that injured him seemed to epitomize the Bulldogs’ team spirit. Despite being in a perilous position in mid air, Nelson attempted to twist around and pass the ball to a teammate as he fell.

“That’s just the kind of team this is. These players are unselfish who like to see each other succeed. They are not only good players, they are good guys.”

Larsen said Nelson, a sophomore transfer, should be ready to play again within a couple weeks.

The Bulldogs played Rocky Mountain College again last night in Billings after the Dillon Tribune went to press. See next week’s print edition for a full rundown of the game, as well as the home games UMW is set to play against Frontier foe Montana State University-Northern on Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. in Dillon.

Due to pandemic restrictions, no fans will be allowed into Straugh Gymanasium for those games, which can be viewed through links available on the schedule page for men’s basketball at the Montana Western Athletic Department website (umwbulldogs.com).

WESTERN 73, ROCKY. 64

UMW team and individual stats Points (73) – Jamal Stephenson 16, Michael Haverfield 12, Colter Miller 12, Max Clark 10, Jok Jok 7, Carlos Allen 7, Treyton Paxton 6, Tanner Haverfield 3, Logan Dreher 0. 3-Point Shooting (10- 24) – Stephenson 4-5, Paxton 2-2, Allen 1-2, Jok 1-2, Michael Haverfield 1-2, Tanner Haverfield 1-4, Dreher 0-3, Clark 0-4. Rebounds (42) –Clark 8, Michael Haverfield 6, Stephenson 6, Allen 6. Assists (15) – Clark 8. Steals (1) – Michael Haverfield. Blocks (0).

TECH 88, WESTERN 84

UMW team and individual stats Points (84) – Stephenson 20, Clark 19, Michael Haverfield 17, Colter Miller 10, Tanner Haverfield 6, Dreher 6, Jok 3, Paxton 3, Grayson Nelson 0. 3-Point Shooting (15-36) – Stephenson 4-9, Michael Haverfield 3-8, Dreher 2-2, Tanner Haverfield 2-4, Clark 2-7, Paxton 1-2, Jok 1-4. Rebounds (33) – Michael Haverfield 7. Assists (20) – Clark 12. Steals (4) – Jok 2. Blocks (2). Jok, Miller.

Category: