KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There is something magical about the Montana Tech Orediggers. With a 79-78 win in an overtime thriller against William Penn, Tech has continued the deepest NAIA national tournament run in program history.
The Diggers (29-4) trailed by as many as 13 points against the top-seeded Statesman in the second half but the team found a way just like they have all season long.
It was the fifth overtime game of the season for Tech and its second in a row. The team played in close games throughout the season and seemed to find ways to win more often than not. Those moments in the regular season proved to help the Diggers in the biggest moment.
“The Frontier Conference is outstanding, and we’ve always said if you can make it out of the conference and get to Kansas City, you will have a chance. We have a lot of experience in these moments, we feel comfortable in overtime,” Montana Tech head coach Adam Hiatt said.
The Diggers didn’t look like themselves in the first 20 minutes of play. They shot 27.8% from the field and turned it over nine times, uncharacteristic from a team that has averaged 8.2 turnovers per game this season.
It was a different team after halftime. Tech shot 48.6% from the field after the break and erased a double-digit deficit, erupting for 47 points in the half.
“We were playing like a team that has never been here before. We challenged the guys and told them they need play with more joy. We knew if we could shoot around 50% in the second half, we were going to win the game. Sure enough, we did,” Hiatt said.
Forward Michael Ure was a difference maker in the second half. He played only five minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, but bounced back in a big way.
Ure poured in 12 consecutive points to tie the game 55-55 with 9:35 remaining. Tech had been trailing since the halfway point of the first half.
“I’m grateful that we have a team that can do the work to put us in position where we could come back. When I’m in the game I have to give it everything I can and hope all of my hard work will pay off,” Ure said.
At the end of regulation, it was all knotted up, 71-71.
Down by one point with 24 seconds left, Camdyn LaRance nailed two free throws to give the Diggers the lead. A defensive stop sealed it.
Ure made three shots from behind the arc and led the team with 19 points. Asa Williams added 17 points and seven rebounds.
Freshman Hayden Diekhans scored 16 points and hauled in nine rebounds. LaRance tallied 14 points in 39 minutes of play.
It was a full team effort as Tech continues to play without their leading scorer and Frontier Conference Player of the Year, Caleb Bellach.
Trailing by double figures against a top-seeded team while being without Bellach, the Diggers never flinched.
“We just keep fighting. We don’t get down in those moments because we’ve been down so much this year, so we know we can come back,” point guard Chrishon Dixon said.
Before the 2021-22 season, Tech had never won an NAIA national tournament game. After one tournament victory last season before bowing out in the second round, the team has found some momentum this time around.
“It’s great, it feels really good. We have worked really hard for this, I’m really grateful for the group that we have,” Ure said.
The Orediggers will play Ottawa (Ariz.) in the national quarterfinals on Wednesday at 3 p.m.