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Griz pick up key road win at UC Riverside

Montana Sports Information

The Montana men’s basketball team picked up its first true road win of the year and snapped a 14-game nonconference losing streak on the road as the Griz ground out a 67-59 win over the UC Riverside Highlanders in Riverside, Calif.

The win lifts Montana to 4-8 on the season and gives the Griz a boost of confidence heading home to wrap up the nonconference schedule against Pepperdine on Thursday, Dec. 22 before opening Big Sky Conference play.

Before tonight’s victory at Riverside, the Griz hadn’t won a true road game since 2014, when Montana defeated Seattle Univ. in Seattle during head coach Travis DeCuire’s first season at the helm.

In a sloppy, back and forth game for both teams, the Highlanders gave up 22 turnovers, and the Grizzlies capitalized, scoring 26 points in transition. Montana, on the other hand, gave up 19 turnovers, but UC Riverside shot just 36 percent from the floor and scored only 12 points off UM’s giveaways.

Riverside used their physicality in the paint to win the battle of the boards, outrebounding the Griz 36-27, making this the first victory of the season for UM when not collecting more rebounds than their opponent.

“We were scrappy and I don’t think we expected them to be as scrappy as they came out. We had to make a couple of adjustments, but really it just comes down to playing hard and doing what we want to do,” said associate head coach Chris Cobb after the game. “Give them a lot of credit. They came out and really cut down our penetration, and that bothered us early.”

Ahmaad Rorie set a new career high of 25 points to lead all scorers and led Montana down the stretch as the Griz shot 65 percent in the second half to pull away from the hosts after going into the halftime break with a one-point lead.

Montana had three players in double figures, with Walter Wright contributing 16 off the bench and Sayeed Pridgett putting in 10 as well. Wright also dished out a game-high four assists, while Pridgett led all players with three blocked shots.

Brandon Gfeller also got in the scoring column for the Griz, hitting a three-pointer from the elbow in the first half. It was the senior’s first three-pointer since Nov. 27 at South Dakota. He now needs 34 more to break the school record for career threes.

The Game started out slowly for both squads, as Montana shot only 33 percent from the floor in the first half and went 2-for-9 from behind the three-point line. Equally as cool, Riverside was only 1-8 from behind the arc and gave up 14 of their 22 total turnovers before the break. Montana only gave out eight turnovers in the first half, showing good control against the Highlanders, who lead the Big West in steals.

Mario Dunn came into the game late in the first half and drained his only three of the game as time wound down, giving the Griz the one-point lead at the break, 28-27.

“Mario gave us huge minutes. Mario’s a scrapper. These are his types of games where he can go in and be aggressive on both ends of the floor. He’s ok with blocking off and being the guy that will do anything for you to win,” added Cobb.

In the second half, the Griz went on an 8-0 run with 12:28 to play when Rorie scored on a put-back of his own miss, followed by a three from the corner. Wright capped the run with another three for the Griz on an assist from Jack Lopez that put the Griz up 43-37.

Montana wouldn’t look back after taking the lead, controlling opportunities at the free throw line to take the 71-63 win, shooting 72.4 percent from the line on the night.

The Griz return home to face Pepperdine in the final game of the nonconference on Thursday, looking to carry the momentum into the first two games of the Big Sky schedule on Dec. 29 against Idaho State and a New Year’s Eve showdown with Weber State.

“Really this is about being ready on December 29, and Thursday is another day for us to be able to do that,” added Cobb. “We’re going to be excited, we’re back at home, we love shooting at home, and we’ll be ready for that one.”