Rocky Mountain College will head into the new year with plenty of momentum.
Defensive intensity and accurate shooting were once again the eye-catching components as the Battlin’ Bears rolled past Dickinson State 83-58 on Wednesday night in men’s basketball at Rocky’s Fortin Center.
Rocky won for the second night in a row at its own Hampton Inn Classic tournament, a nice answer to a four-game losing streak. The Bears (5-10) led wire-to-wire against the Blue Hawks in reversing an 82-71 setback at Dickinson on Nov. 28.
Four Rocky starters scored in double figures, led by point guard Nate Richardson’s 22, but the difference was the Bears’ disruptive pressure defense and sizzling 53 percent shooting, which included 11 3-pointers.
Rocky started quickly against DSU, scoring off turnovers, capitalizing on its quickness and knocking down an array of shots in constructing a 26-9 lead in the first 11ƒ minutes. The Blue Hawks committed nine turnovers during that stretch, while Rocky shot 65 percent.
“A stop and a score, that’s a perfect possession,” Rocky coach Bill Dreikosen said. “We got quite a few of those tonight.”
In taking charge, the Bears pressured DSU in the backcourt and then hustled back to get into a rugged 2-3 zone, which also stymied the visitors.
“We had a great effort,” senior forward Anthony Allen said. “We just put in that new press, and I think it fits our ability because we’re an athletic team. That’s what got us going, running around and trying to get people going into an up-tempo game.”
During the early stages, Rocky clearly rattled the Blue Hawks with the intense pressure. DSU (6-9) also couldn’t get its outside shots to fall against the zone, as the Bears led by as many as 22 points in the first half and owned a 43-24 advantage at halftime.
“I think it worked really well,” Allen said of the defensive tactics. “We’re athletic enough and our arms are long enough in the zone to scare people enough to keep them from coming in.”
It was more of the same in the second half, with Rocky owning its largest lead at the final buzzer.
“It doesn’t matter what defense you play,” Dreikosen said. “You’ve got to play with a lot of intensity and heart. That’s what we did. That’s a tough defense to play full court. But to play with the energy level that we did, I was really proud of our effort tonight.”
DSU did cut the lead to 63-50 on a driving basket by Nathan Lebsock with 7:57 to go. But Richardson nailed 3 of 4 free throws after being fouled on consecutive drives to the hoop, and EJ Ross tacked on a 3-pointer from the corner to make it 69-50 at the 6:40 mark.
Ross and Orlandor Westbrooks also hit 3-pointers in the closing minutes.
“We pushed through some times when we got tired out there and continued to play hard,” Dreikosen said. “That’s a big thing for a team that hasn’t won a lot of games. It’s a big thing for any team.”
Ross wound up with 18 points and six steals for the national champion Bears, while Allen and Westbrooks also made significant contributions with 15 and 14 points. Allen also had eight rebounds.
DSU, which had 23 turnovers, received 16 points from Lebsock and 10 from Joshua Henry and Matthew Lee. The Blue Hawks had 12 turnovers in the first half and went 0 for 7 from 3-point range.
Rocky, which played a tough nonconference schedule, will launch Frontier Conference games next week with home contests against Montana Western on Thursday and Montana Tech on Saturday.
“I just like where we’re headed,” Dreikosen said. “We’re playing more like we’re capable of playing, and that’s encouraging from a coaching standpoint.”