KANSAS CITY — For the first half of Montana Tech's Round of 16 national tournament game against top-seeded William Penn University, head coach Adam Hiatt felt his squad was "playing like a team that had never been to Kansas City" which, to be fair, it was.
"The lights were a little bright," Hiatt said. "We were playing like we didn't want to lose this game. We had to have more aggressiveness and confidence."
Coming out of the break, the Orediggers found plenty of both.
Four Tech players scored in double digits — including a team-high 19 points from Michael Ure, who went on a critical scoring run in the second half — as the Orediggers mounted multiple double-digit comebacks against the Statesmen and eventually headed to an overtime period where Tech escaped with a 79-78 win to lock up a berth in the quarterfinals.
A year after winning their first-ever national tournament game and falling in the second round, Tech made history this season by advancing to the final site in Kansas City. With another gutsy overtime win — this one coming a week after Tech pulled out an OT victory at home over Thomas Moore University to punch a ticket to Kansas City — the Orediggers continued their unprecedented run.
"Adversity creates opportunity," said Hiatt of his team which trailed William Penn by 13 points a little under midway through the second half. "But we embraced the moment and stayed in the present."
The Orediggers and Statesmen exchanged 11 lead changes in the first half, with William Penn managing to build a 33-24 advantage at the break.
That lead swelled to 13 off a layup from Jayvin Brown to put the Statesmen up 54-41 with 13:23 remaining in the second half. Tech's Camdyn LaRance then hit a layup to make it an 11-point game.
That's when Ure took over, scoring 12 points over the next three minutes to tie the game at 55 and turn the tables on a Statesmen team that at one point looked like it might runaway with the win.
"Just stay aggressive," Ure said of his mindset during his scoring run. "if the shots came I had to take them. I had to do my best to contribute where I can."
Ure then hit a go-ahead 3-pointer to put Tech ahead 71-68 with just over a minute remaining before William Penn managed to tie the game on a jump shot from Chanze Cruesoe and a free throw from Eddie Dale and force the extra period.
Overtime saw the Statesmen grab a 73-71 lead off a dunk from Daley before Tech's Asa Wiliams hit a 3-pointer to put Tech up 74-73. Neither team would lead by more than a single point for the remainder of the period and the Orediggers' final bucket — a free throw from LaRance with 24 seconds left — was the deciding score as Cruesoe's last-gasp 3-point attempt was off target.
Ure wasn't the only player to step up for a team that's spent nearly the entirety of this tournament run with Frontier Conference Player of the Year Caleb Bellach. Williams added 17 points and 7 rebounds, Hayden Diekhans nearly had a double-double with 16 points and 9 boards and LaRance finished with 14 points.
"We use the whole team, we work really hard from start to finish," said Ure. "We just persevere together. We have a lot of guys that can really buckle down and grit their teeth and get the job done."
Daley paced the Statesmen with a double-double (21 points and 12 rebounds), C.J. Washington added 11 points and Muneer Newton also had a double-double performance with 10 points and 12 boards.
Tech now gets a day to catch its breath before taking on OUAZ (Ottawa University of Arizona) on Wednesday at 2 p.m.
These Orediggers continue to head deeper into uncharted territory and, at this point, they're just soaking in what has been nothing short of a magical ride.
"We're gonna enjoy this win to the fullest," Hiatt said. "At this point of the season it's a one-game tournament every single day. It's survive and advance. I'm happy for these guys, they understand perseverance."