UMW News BureauThe University of Montana Western Bulldogs lost their opening round game 77-76 at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Division I men’s basketball tournament Wednesday, March 16 to the top-seeded Robert Morris University-Illinois Eagles. By Lowell Peterson The University of Montana Western Bulldogs lost their opening round game 77-76 at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Division I men’s basketball tournament Wednesday, March 16 to the top-seeded Robert Morris University-Illinois Eagles (RMU). Coming in as the 32nd ranked team against the number one ranked Eagles, RMC was the obvious favorite, but Montana Western gave Robert Morris as tough a game as they had all year, missing a huge upset by just one point. The Eagles entered the tournament with a 30-1 record, the best in NAIA Division I Al Bruehl, who was honored at the tournament banquet as the Division I coach of the year, said the game proved just how tough the NAIA tournament is. “That game shows you why this is the toughest tournament in college basketball," Bruehl said. "It’s not whether you win by a lot; it’s win and survive. Every time we draw a team from the Frontier Conference we have a tough match-up. It’s overtime or a one-point game. That’s a tribute to that conference and its players.” The game was close throughout. There were eight tied scores in the contest and RMU’s largest lead was six points, coming in the first half. The Bulldogs largest lead was 11 points coming with 11:07 to play in the second half. At that point the Eagles pressure defense picked up and the officials blew fewer whistles in spite of the increased physical play. With 7:55 to play RMC regained the lead 59-58. Montana Western regained their composure and battled back to take their final lead of the game at 76-75 on two Tyler Hurley free throws with 44 seconds to play. The Eagles missed a shot and Brandon Brown grabbed the rebound for the Bulldogs. With physical pressure from three players the Eagles recovered the ball and Daveed Dildy laid the ball in for the game’s final points. Montana Western had a final chance for victory slip away when a pass was bobbled and a last ditch attempt at a field goal missed the mark before the final buzzer sounded. “They are a good team but I thought we could hang with them and we did," Bulldog head coach Steve Keller remarked. "We have some good players and they stayed right with them the whole game. Brandon [Brown] got inside at the end and, hey, he got shut down. Overall, I think we played a really good game.” Montana Western proved they belonged at the tournament with the one-point loss to the top-rated team. The Bulldogs were prevented from achieving the upset and victory due to 22 turnovers and giving up 19 offensive rebounds. Brown, the Frontier Conference Player of the Year, had an impressive performance making 14 of 20 shots on his way to a game-high 32 points. Senior Cody Thueringer, playing his last game as a Bulldog, had a solid all-around game scoring 16 points, grabbing nine rebounds and dishing out five assists. Hurley also finished in double figures scoring 12 points and matched Thueringer’s rebound total with nine. Robert Morris placed three players in double figure scoring. Diante Watkins led the way with 21, Reggie Bunch totaled 17 and Daveed Dildy finished with 15. The victory sent the Eagles to the second round of the tournament with a 31-1 record. Montana Western wrapped up a very successful season with a record of 22-10. It was the second straight season the Bulldogs finished with over 20 wins and a trip to the national tournament. With only two graduating seniors the future continues to look bright for the men’s basketball program at Montana Western.