BUTTE — Nate Ward knew it would just be a matter of time before his shots from behind the arc would start to fall for Montana Tech.
His head coach Adam Hiatt knew too. And on Tuesday night in a Frontier Conference matchup with Montana Western, Ward’s work finally came to fruition. The sophomore point guard finished with 19 points and hit 4-of-5 3-point shots in the Orediggers 84-68 win over the Bulldogs and added on four assists to boot.
He’s just happy they’re finally going down.
“I’ve been struggling early in the season, but coach has just been telling me to be confident and keep shooting it and it will eventually fall,” Ward said. “That’s what happened.”
Ward has struggled with injuries at points this season, including a concussion, but has been healthy since the new year. That’s helped him immensely and translated directly to success on the court for the Orediggers.
A fantastic passer, Ward had no turnovers on the evening and has just 22 (against 59 assists) on the year. Having confidence shooting the ball was simply the missing piece.
“We’ve been addressing that for quite a while, the confidence comes from within,” said Hiatt, who is in his third season. “We can stroke you and compliment you and tell you how good you are or whatever, but until you believe it, it’s not going to happen.
“He was able to solve that puzzle tonight and if he continues, we’re going to be a really good team.”
With the win, which moves Tech to 15-8 overall and 5-6 in the Frontier, the Orediggers have already surpassed last season’s conference win total. Five conference wins is also the most Tech has had since the 2014-15 campaign.
Leading by 13 points at halftime, the Orediggers were able to fend off a tough Bulldogs squad through much of the second half. Cedric Boone, who struggled mightily from the field (7-of-21 shooting) and Kooper Kidgell both finished with 19 apiece for Western.
But for Bulldogs head coach Mike Larsen, it was still a frustrating night. While his squad was only outscored by three points over the final 20 minutes, he feels Western keeps digging themselves into holes they can’t get out of.
“Whenever we get down and our backs against the wall, it seems we come out and play and play at a high level,” Larsen said. “I think it’s coaching. I think I’m not doing a very good job getting them prepared. I think we’re not game planning correct and not giving them the opportunity to be successful.”
The loss puts the Bulldogs at 7-15 on the year with a 1-10 mark in Frontier Conference play in Larsen’s first year. His team certainly didn’t quit, however, battling back to within 11 points late in the game.
Tech didn’t allow them to threaten and refused to make mistakes — it had just four turnovers on the evening.
“We took care of the ball, that was one of our points of emphasis, we’re really good defensively when we can establish the half-court defense,” Ward said. “They tried to pick up the tempo … that causes you some problems and you just hope to score enough to hold them off and that’s what we did.”