When Montana lost at Portland State on Thursday, it was a big second half run by the Vikings that eventually undid the Griz.
On Saturday at Sacramento State, the Hornets (6-12, 3-4 BSC) drained six three-pointers and built an 11-point lead in the first half that Montana (10-11, 5-3) couldn’t recover from, and the Grizzlies would go on to drop their second-straight game, 92-83.
The loss to the Hornets is the third-straight for the Griz when played in Sacramento, and results in Montana suffering its first Big Sky road sweep under head coach Travis DeCuire.
The Hornets snapped a three-game losing streak on their home court with the victory over the Griz, which drops Montana to No. 4 in the Big Sky Conference standings with UM returning home for five of their next seven games.
Coming into the week’s road trip, the Grizzlies were producing the league’s best scoring defense in conference play, allowing their first six opponents to score an average of just 66.7 points per game. The Griz defense slipped on the West Coast swing, however, allowing an average of 90 points against Portland State and Sacramento State.
“We’ve been flat two games in a row. Our offense has been fine, but our defensive energy and enthusiasm have been down. Our extra effort hasn’t been good enough, and I don’t know that we’ve competed on the defensive end,” said DeCuire, following a long post-game talk with his troops.
One of the biggest bright spots for the Griz was a career night for Sayeed Pridgett, who broke out of a freshman year slump and poured in 28 points after going scoreless the previous two games.
“It was good to see him come back. We’ve been needing that for a long time, and hopefully, he’s back for the rest of the season,” said DeCuire.
Ahmaad Rorie also scored in double figures for the Griz with 22 points. The sophomore from Tacoma has now scored 19-or-more points in 10 of UM’s last 11 games. Michael Oguine added 15 points, and Fabijan Krslovic put in 10 to give UM four players in double figures.
There are only five teams in the nation who are worse at defending the three-point ball than Sac. State, who have allowed opponents to shoot 40.5 percent from behind the arc so far this season, ranking them at No. 342 amongst all D-I teams.
The Griz couldn’t’ take advantage of the Hornet’s sub-par perimeter defense, however, starting the game by going an ice-cold 0-for-7 from downtown, allowing the Hornets to build a lead that fluctuated between six and 11 points for most of the first half.
As the Griz took two steps forward, so too did Sac. State, answering back in big ways when Montana was looking to go on a run.
Pridgett brought the Griz fans in attendance (that included a large contingent of his friends and family who made the trip from Oakland) to their feet, going coast-to-coast for a thunderous one-handed dunk for one of Montana’s few highlights of the first half.
After Pridgett had posted two more of his 10 first-half points on a jumper right after his dunk, the Hornets answered back by going on a 7-0 run, capped by a Nick Hornsby three-pointer. Hornsby, the defending Big Sky co-Player of the Week, led the Hornets in scoring with 25 points.
Montana closed out the first half by going on a 6-0 run to go into the lockers down 41-34, then extended it to a 13-3 run in the opening minutes of the second half to give the Griz a boost of momentum and cut the Hornet lead to three.
But Hornsby got a three from the corner to fall thanks to some friendly rims, and Eric Stuteville threw down a big dunk on the Hornet’s next possession, putting a halt to the Grizzlies’ momentum and building the lead back to 10.
Sac. State took a game-high 16-point lead with 10 minutes left in the game when Hornsby converted an and-one after collecting an offensive rebound, and the Hornets would hold on to the for about five minutes.
Montana then started a comeback attempt, going on an 11-2 run a quarter of the way through the half, punctuated by a dunk from Oguine that came from a picked pocket at mid-court. Rorie capped the run with one of his four three-pointers to cut the Hornet lead to six at 69-63.
But the Hornets managed to do what they did the whole game, and strike just as Montana was creeping back into the game, with Stuteville scoring five-straight points as the two-minute mark neared.
With the Griz trailing by six and less than two minutes to play, Sacramento State would ice the game at the free throw line, thwarting the UM comeback attempt, despite a flurry of fast-break offense and a three-pointer from Rorie.
Montana now returns to Missoula for its second three-game homestand of the season, hosting two teams UM already beat on the road in Eastern Washington and Idaho, followed by the Brawl of the Wild game against Montana State on February 4.
“We’ll have a nice meeting on the way home and have one Monday, and we’ll come back fired up, ready to hold down the fort,” said DeCuire.
“We’ve shown we can win three in a row. And we know we’re a better basketball team than we’ve shown as of recent.”