Two streaks came to an end on Saturday, and another stayed alive as the Montana Grizzlies snapped a four-game slide by breaking Montana State’s five-game win streak with a gritty 90-84 victory over the Bobcats, extending their run to 13-straight Brawl of the Wild wins.
In a century-old rivalry that has spanned 294 games, the Griz also evened the all-time score with the Bobcats, tying the overall series at 147 in front of 5,546 raucous fans at Dahlberg Arena.
In the victory, Montana weathered a storm of hot shooting by MSU in the first half where the visitors went 5-of-8 from behind the arc to jump out to an early eight-point lead.
But UM’s defensive effort against the league’s hottest team was the difference maker, as the Griz held MSU’s Tyler Hall – the nation’s fourth-highest scorer – largely in check, and outrebounded the Cats to take the win.
“I thought overall, for 30 minutes, we played phenomenally,” said UM head coach Travis DeCuire. “We went back to grinding. We fought through some adversity tonight. They made some runs, and they got off to a really good start, and we just fought through it. We were the team that we should be, and we expect to be.”
The Grizzlies exploded for 60 second half points – the most in any half for UM under DeCuire – thanks in large part to sophomore guard Ahmaad Rorie, who put up 26 of his game-high 28 points after the break.
Michael Oguine also had yet another stellar game, netting 22 points and pulling down game-high nine rebounds.
While Montana has been one of the Big Sky’s best from the charity stripe all season, the Griz made an eye-popping 23-straight free throws to close out the game, sealing the rivalry win with mental toughness down the stretch.
“That was huge,” said DeCuire. “The key was to look at who’s shooting the free throws too. We needed Ahmaad to get more aggressive and get to the paint. When he did that, he goes 11-for-11, and Mike goes 10-11.
“The other piece that jumps out at you is those guys went 14-for-22 from the field. We did a good job of making sure the right guys got shots, and the percentages caught up. We also did a good job of executing and being in the right places on both sides of the ball.”
The Bobcats came out on fire from three-point range, knocking down their first four shots from beyond the arc and adding a pair of free throws for an early 14-6 lead. The attacking play of Oguine, who scored five straight on his own, kept the Grizzlies close in the opening 10 minutes.
When Hall left the game midway through the first, Montana locked in defensively. They kept up the focus even when the Bobcats’ leading scorer returned, holding MSU scoreless for over six minutes.
“Mike and Bobby Moorehead did a really good job of staying close to him (Hall), so he never got any catch and shoot opportunities. And we did a good job of coming at him when he did drive and forcing him to pass it out,” said DeCuire.
During that run, Jared Samuelson scored five points, including an and-one bucket that tied the game at 21-all with seven minutes left. Oguine then gave the Grizzlies’ their first lead since 2-0 with a one-handed tip-in on the next possession.
The Griz kept it going, stretching the run to 10-0 on a three-pointer from Mario Dunn that gave Montana a 26-21 lead with just over four minutes to play. Montana State answered with a run of their own, scoring six straight toward the end of the half, but Walter Wright was able to give Montana the 30-29 halftime lead with a pair of free throws on Montana’s final possession.
The two sides traded buckets early in the second half, with neither able to establish a lead of more than a single point for nearly five minutes. Oguine, spinning through the lane and finishing a left-handed and-one, finally pushed the deficit to four in favor of Montana.
Oguine left the game momentarily after grabbing his knee on a rebound, and Hall took advantage of not having the Grizzly defensive stopper on the court, burying a triple that gave the lead back to the Bobcats at 42-41.
Montana State extended the lead to four, but Montana answered with a five-point possession to retake the lead. Sayeed Pridgett made a pull-up jumper from the elbow, and an off-ball foul after the shot gave Montana another chance. Jack Lopez drained a corner three off the inbounds play to put Montana back in front 46-45.
Rorie helped Montana match its biggest lead of the game at five with a three followed by an and-one drive on the next possession. His six straight points made it 57-52 with just over nine minutes left.
Montana continued to score with ease, with Rorie connecting on a pull-up jumper from just inside the arc to extend the scoring run to 8-1 and put Montana ahead by double-digits for the first time at 65-55.
The Bobcats were able to cut it back down to seven, but a clutch wing three from Moorehead brought it back into double digits. After some MSU free throws, Montana went on a 6-0 run to extend the lead all the way to 14 points with three minutes remaining.
“Guys like Bobby and Mario were huge. They were doing thigs that didn’t show up on the stat sheet,” added DeCuire. “Bobby’s three was huge, but what they did was defend. Bobby gave us another look on Tyler Hall, Mario was a good help defender, he gave us good minutes. That’s where your bench comes in, and you win games.”
Once again Montana State cut the lead to single digits, but once again Rorie rose to the challenge, floating a teardrop in for his 22nd point of the half.
Montana State hit a couple of jumpers down the stretch, but the Griz were solid from the free-throw line to secure the win.
After playing five of their last seven games at home, the Griz now return to the road to face Southern Utah and a surging Northern Arizona next week, looking to maintain the form that led them to victory over the Cats as the conference tourney draws near.
“We’ve got to learn from this one. We’ve already learned a little bit, the hard way from losses, now we have to learn from a win. We’ve got to look at what we did right and what we did wrong.
“Why were we a different team tonight than we have been? A lot of it is competitiveness, were working hard at practice, we getting after it, we’re holding each other accountable better, we’re pushing the right buttons with each other, we’re accepting leadership, and our bench was incredible tonight.
“Those things carry over, and guys feel better about performing on the floor. Now we have to do it on the road, and we have to do it through adversity. If we continue to do that we’ll be fine.”