Another convincing win by No. 11-ranked Rocky Mountain College on Friday night kept the Battlin’ Bears in the thick of things when it comes to pursuing the Frontier Conference championship in men’s basketball.
Six Rocky players scored points in double digits and the Bears, who are seeking their first outright Frontier title in 20 years, led from start to finish in beating Montana Tech 101-86 in the Fortin Center.
In looking to wrap up the regular season in style, Rocky, 10-3 in conference and 19-6 overall, won its sixth consecutive game and pulled into a tie with Montana State Northern for the league lead with three games to go.
“At the end of the year, you want your players giving their best efforts,” Rocky coach Bill Dreikosen said. “Right now guys are coming out there and they’re giving everything they’ve got — and they know they have to.”
The Bears, in playing fast on offense and swarming on defense, were led by the 20 points of senior forward Jeremy Nicolas. Malachi Roberts added 16, while Matt Strickland accounted for four of Rocky’s 13 3-pointers en route to 14 points.
“Tonight I felt like we stepped up to the challenge against a good team,” Dreikosen said. “You had to be ready. I felt like the beginning of the game was a good example that we were ready.”
In the women’s game played earlier in the evening, Tech used a huge 27-3 run at the end of the first half and went on to defeat Rocky 83-53.
The sixth-place Orediggers, who are fighting for a postseason berth, shot 54 percent from the field and enjoyed a staggering 60-21 rebounding advantage against the last-place Bears, who dropped their 12th straight game.
Sophia Baetz, a reserve guard for Tech, tallied 18 of her game-high 20 points in the first half. She also finished with eight rebounds.
Rocky will close out the home portion of its regular season on Saturday night by entertaining Idaho’s Lewis-Clark State at the Fortin Center.
The women will play at 5:30 p.m., followed by the men at 7:30 p.m.
Rocky men 101, Montana Tech 86
The Bears jumped ahead of the Orediggers 10-0 in the opening minutes. Rocky’s Sian Lane banked in a 35-foot 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to make it a 55-42 spread by intermission.
Rocky, which is the league’s top scoring team at 90.6 points per game, shot 56 percent from the field, including 13 of 27 from 3-point territory.
“They’re playing harder. They’re learning each other’s strengths,” Dreikosen said of his Bears’ winning streak. “I think they’re gaining confidence in one another and in the system.”
Rocky, which won its last league title outright during the 1993-94 season, was ahead by as many as 26 points, 93-67, heading into the game’s closing eight minutes. The Bears then rested their starters.
“Our effort was tremendous,” said Strickland, a senior reserve guard. “Defensively we were swarming, everybody had each other’s back. Offensively, when we share the ball, it’s beautiful. It’s a great thing when we can play that way for a whole 40 minutes.”
Lane chipped in with 12 points, Tyree Anderson 11 and Joel Barndt 10. Nicolas grabbed seven rebounds, while Anderson handed out five assists.
Seventh-place Tech, 5-9 in league and 13-13 overall, received a double-double of 25 points and 10 rebounds from Bryan Bock. Teammate Brandon Rydberg hit for 16 points, including four 3-pointers.
The Orediggers shot 44 percent from the field.
Tech never got any closer than five points after Rocky’s opening 10-0 spurt.
“That’s very big for us,” Strickland said of the fast start. “Our starters, they do a great job every day. When we come in focused, you can see it on our faces in the locker room before the game.
“If we come in focused, we can take care of business — and we started early tonight. That’s what we’ve got to do every game if we want to be successful.”
Tech women 83, Rocky 53
The Orediggers closed out the final 8 1/2 minutes of the first half with a 27-3 surge to take a 47-24 lead at halftime.
Rocky moved ahead 21-20 on a basket by Megan Halstead with 8:38 to go before intermission. Tech responded with a 16-0 scoring spree that eventually grew to 27-3.
Baetz figured in 13 of those 27 points, with three 3-pointers. Teammate Mandy Machinal collected eight points, including a 3-pointer and a three-point play.
Tech, 6-8 in league and 10-11 overall, shot 54 percent in the first half, compared to 26 percent for Rocky.
The Bears, 0-13 in conference and 7-15 overall, shot 1 of 14 from the field during the last 8 1/2 minutes of the first half.
Rocky also missed its first seven shots of the second half as Tech moved ahead 58-26 with just under 16 minutes to play. The Orediggers wound up leading by as many as 42 points (76-34).
“I thought they did a good job of running their stuff,” Rocky coach Brian Henderson said of Tech. “They got some good looks — and they were hot that first half.”
Machinal scored 14 of her 16 points in the first half.
“We were pretty cold the whole game,” Henderson said. “I thought we got all sorts of good looks. I’m really proud of the girls for battling through, but what it comes right down to is we’ve got to have a sustained defensive effort for 40 minutes. It wasn’t there tonight.”
Allie Sauvageau’s 11 points led the way for Rocky. Brittany Myers added 10 points.
Rocky shot 27 percent on the night, including 6 of 29 from 3-point range.