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'Keep playing the way we've been playing': Montana Tech men primed for NAIA opener

Posted at 4:02 PM, Mar 14, 2024

BUTTE — Montana Tech head men's basketball coached Adam Hiatt described getting the opportunity to play an opponent outside of the Frontier Conference in March as "sort of refreshing."

"You get to have a new look at a team that presents a different challenge and different obstacles for your team," said Hiatt. "But we have so many diverse teams in the Frontier Conference that it gives us a healthy understanding of the strengths of other teams throughout the country."

After playing all league teams three times — and going a total of four rounds against both Montana Western and Carroll College en route to a third straight Frontier Tournament title — the Orediggers are set to play a team outside of the Frontier for the first time in over two months.

And it'll be on a much bigger stage.

Tech — the No. 3 seed in the Naismith Quadrant — is set to take on No. 14 Wayland Baptist (Texas) in the opening round of the NAIA Men's Basketball National Tournament on Friday at 7 p.m. at the HPER Complex in the Orediggers' second straight season of hosting first- and second-round games.

The winner of that game will face the victor of the earlier first-round game between No. 11 Lewis-Clark State and No. 6 Hope International (Calif.) in Saturday's second-round game at 6 p.m. The winner of that contest heads to the final site and Round of 16 in Kansas City. Tech is hoping to make the trip for the second straight season.

"We gotta keep doing what we're doing," said senior forward Caleb Bellach. "I don't think it's going to take anything extraordinary or special than what we've been doing. We just gotta keep playing the way we've been playing."

The Orediggers completed the Frontier's first-ever regular-season and tournament three-peat in Great Falls on March 2 and will carry a 26-4 overall record and 12-game win streak into Friday's game against a 21-9 Wayland Baptist team that finished fourth in the Sooner Athletic Conference standings.

Tech has been writing both program and conference history these past three seasons, and the Orediggers are hoping to make more as they look to build off last year's run to the Round of 8 and the season before that Tech's first-ever appearance in the national tournament.

"There's not a moment or environment that's gonna be too big for our guys," said Hiatt. "It doesn't mean that we're going to be perfect but it means that we know what to expect. And half the time that's the half the battle is just having that understanding of what the moment's going to feel like."