BILLINGS — Taylor England said it best.
“Perfect timing,” said the Montana Tech sophomore with a big smile.
A strong first half and some clutch free throw shooting at the end helped Montana Tech upset Rocky Mountain College 70-59 Wednesday night in the first round of the Frontier Conference Tournament at the Fortin Center.
The No. 6 Orediggers (17-14) advance to a Saturday semifinal game against No. 1 seed Carroll College (24-6). Montana Tech defeated the Saints 69-66 last Thursday in Butte.
It was the Orediggers' first Frontier Conference road win of the season and their first postseason victory since 1999.
“Couldn’t ask for betting timing,” England said again.
In the other first round games, Lewis-Clark State defeat Montana Western 94-74 while Montana State-Northern won 101-93 over Providence. The Lights will play at L-C State in the other semifinal game.
Rocky, the No. 3 seed, fell to 19-11. The Battlin’ Bears will now wait to see if they receive an at-large bid to the NAIA National Tournament. Craig Wilmore had a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds, while Clayton Ladine also had 13 points. Jared Samuelson finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.
England finished with a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds for Montana Tech, both game-highs. Nate Ward added 14 points and Blake Dittman 13.
The Orediggers outscored Rocky 20-6 to close out the first half and lead 36-20 at halftime.
“We needed to win the rebounding, control the turnovers and have more energy,” said England. “We were able to execute. We wanted to get the ball inside, attack, keep them on their heels.”
The Battlin’ Bears shot just 28 percent (9 of 32) from the field in the first half.
“We were very flat in the first half. We couldn’t find energy and we couldn’t make shots,” said Rocky head coach Bill Dreikosen. “I really don’t know why. I’ll take the blame for that. I didn’t have them ready.”
The Orediggers led by as many as 18 early in the second half. “They were the aggressor tonight,” Dreikosen added.
The Battlin’ Bears pulled within five, 61-56, on a Clayton Ladine 3-pointer 2:52 remaining.
“We just played at a higher level of intensity,” said Dreikosen of the rally.
But Rocky managed just a Satchel McDonald 3-pointer in its final nine possessions as Montana Tech made seven of its last eight free throws. The Orediggers made only 55 percent through the first 36 minutes of the game.
“We got rattled a little bit,” England said. “We had to keep attacking. We knew if we kept shooting free throws they were going to fall.”
Dylan Pannabecker added nine points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots for the Orediggers.