I love National Tournament time. Being able to see teams I am unfamiliar with, or have never seen before (enter stage left Thomas More). Tonight’s first game in the NAIA National Tournament is between Thomas More and Eastern Oregon, with tipoff scheduled for 5 pm here in Butte.

graphic courtesy godiggers.com
graphic courtesy godiggers.com

Thomas More (Ky.) ended the regular season with a 22-8 overall record, they finished 15-7 in the Mid-South Conference and finished as the #24 team in the country in the final NAIA poll. They enter the national tournament as a #5 seed in the Cramer Quadrant. The Saints received an at-large bid to this year’s tournament, making it four straight trips to the tournament, and their sixth tournament appearance in school history. The Saints have racked up a 7-4 record in five appearances at the dance.

The Saints show 6 players who average in double digits, with three of those playing in all 30 games thus far. Reid Jolly leads the Saints with 17 ppg, Jacob Jones is next at 13, and Wyatt Vieth checks in at 12 points a game. Casey George who has played in 24 games averages 12, Noah Pack is averaging 11 points a game in 23 games, and Kyle Ross is averaging 10 a game, playing in 20 games thus far. The Saints are powered by their starting five.

Eastern Oregon University came out of the Cascade Conference tournament as the #2 team, falling in the chipper to the College of Idaho, the #1 team in the nation. The Mounties will be making their 9th trip to the NAIA National Tournament, and their first since 2017.

Phillip Malatare leads the Mounties into Butte, as the reigning Cascade Conference player of the year. Phillip averaged 19 points a game in his senior campaign. This will not be the Mounites first trip to Butte this season, as the Orediggers of Montana Tech hosted EOU back on November 11th of last year. Montana Tech got the win that day 70-61 in Malatare’s return to Montana. Phillip played his high school ball for Arlee Montana, and he had some epic showdowns with Montana Tech’s Caleb Bellach. You can read more about that history HERE.

The Mountaineers are getting 79 points a game entering the tournament. They have 5 different guys averaging double figures, I mentioned Malatare at 19, Emmit Taylor is at 12 ppg, Jaden Hansen comes in at 11, Adam Orr and Malachi Afework both check in at 10 points a game. (you might remember, Afework started his college career at Carroll College). The number that jumps off the page is the Mounties 3 point percentage, as a team they are hitting 40% from downtown. They and Westmont -in this pod- are both in the top 10 in that regard, so be ready for some possible fireworks.

The winner of this ballgame will advance to the round of 32 tomorrow night and battle the victor of the Montana Tech v. Westmont game. Tonight’s games can be viewed on the Montana Tech Youtube channel.

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