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With mixture of familiar and new faces, Montana Tech ready for conference play

Posted at 12:22 PM, Nov 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-26 14:22:44-05

BUTTE  — For the Montana Tech men's basketball team, this season is moving at much brisker pace than the last one. And the Orediggers are just fine with that.

"It's been a whirlwind to this point," said Tech head coach Adam Hiatt. "We were just reminiscing that last year we had one trip in October, and then we didn't play for a month. Then we had one game in Dillon, and then we didn't play for a month.

"It's been really fun to be back on the floor."

The Orediggers (7-2) have already played 10 games this season — including an exhibition game against Houston and former Tech coach Kelvin Sampson — compared to just two games across the same span in 2020. Tech will now play College of Idaho on the road on Saturday and then return to Butte for its home opener against Montana Western on Thursday.

Tech heads into conference play looking to build off the success of the past two seasons in which the Orediggers hosted Frontier playoff games, breaking a drought that extended to 1999.

The Orediggers 79-51 loss to Houston came some 24 hours after Tech beat Walla Walla University at home, hurried to catch its flight and then arrived in Texas after midnight.

It was a mad dash to get to Houston, but the experience of competing against one of the best Division I programs in the nation, one coming off a Final Four appearance last season, was second to none.

And while there was no upset in the making that day, the Orediggers can still take pride in this — they scored more points against the No. 12 Cougars than Rice, Virginia and Oregon this season.

"We felt coming back from that trip that was a great building block for us," Hiatt said. "We got to learn first hand how hard you have to play to compete. And also in order to win games against quality teams you have to play together, you can't play as an individual. We had to play as a fist united."

That fist is comprised of six seniors including honorable All-American's Taylor England and Sindou Diallo, who have each already eclipsed 100 points this season.

But Hiatt has plenty of confidence in his younger players, especially in Montana State sophomore transfer Caleb Bellach who is currently leading the Orediggers with 128 points. That production is no surprise to his coach.

"He's been everything we expected," Hiatt said. "He's a tremendous talent. The biggest thing about Caleb is he's a very bright player but he's tremendously coachable. He wants to be the best he can be."

Bellach, a Manhattan Christian product, is now playing at his father's (Jeff Bellach) alma mater. Being a prolific scorer is just who he is, but he said he'll do whatever his teams needs of him.

"I've always been a scorer," Bellach said. "That's how I've always played and my dad played the same way. I'm gonna do what I have to do to help this team win."

Tech now heads for Caldwell, Idaho on Saturday for a rematch with the Yotes.

"We're looking to use this game as a great preparation for our opening next Thursday when we host Montana Western," Hiatt said.