And just like that we are down to 32.

After the first night of the NAIA National Tournament, half of the starting field is done for the year. The first round of the tournament took place at 16 different campuses around the country, the second round will continue on those same floors tonight.

Here in Butte Thomas More, KY won their opening round game against the Mountaineers of Eastern Oregon, and in the nightcap the host Montana Tech Orediggers advanced with a win over Westmont, CA. It was the final game of the year for the Mounties and the Warriors, but also the final game for the Warriors as a member of the NAIA, as they will start the process of moving to NCAA Div. II.

Bridger Larson working under the rim- photo courtesy of JonWick/5518Design
Bridger Larson working under the rim- photo courtesy of JonWick/5518Design

Thomas More advanced to the round of 32 with a 66-44 win over Eastern Oregon. The Saints held the Mounties to 12 first-half points, as Eastern struggled to get momentum offensively shooting 16% in the first 20 minutes. Eastern did make a couple of runs in the second half but was never able to trim the lead to single digits.

The Saints were extremely consistent all night. Offensively they displayed an outstanding passing game, looking for the open shot, and defensively they gave EOU no breathing room for open shots. Reid Jolly, the Saints leading scorer on the year averaging 17 a game, finished with 22, 18 of those in the second half. Guard Jacob Jones had himself a night, getting 18 points. (honestly, I think his defense was more important than his offense) And big Noah Pack finished with 12 points.

For Montana Tech it came down to the bench, again. In the Oredigger win over Westmont, Frontier Conference MVP Caleb Bellach went to the floor with an injury 1 minute into the game. That brought sophomore Cam LaRance into the game early, and Cam delivered. LaRance played 32 minutes, he went 5-9 from the floor to finish with 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. Asa Williams stepped up with 15 points, and Hayden Diekhans and Michael Ure each finished with 13. Keeley Bake does what Keeley always does, he settles things down, he makes big shots, and he doesn’t make mistakes.

Crishon Dixon battles-Picture courtesy of BnO Photography. BRIANNA OMARA
Crishon Dixon battles-Picture courtesy of BnO Photography. BRIANNA OMARA

Tonight’s game is going to be an outstanding game. 2 fantastic coaches, leading incredibly talented teams. The winner will head to Kansas City to battle for a banner. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 pm in the HPER. There are a limited number of reserved tickets left, and General Admissions tickets are being sold at the HPER all day as well. We will see you tonight!

The game can be viewed on the Montana Tech Athletics Youtube channel as well

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