The Grizzlies put the disappointment of a last-minute loss on Thursday behind them and regrouped on Saturday, earning an 85-82 payback win over Portland State on senior night at Dahlberg Arena.
Montana moves back to .500 on the season (14-14, 9-6 BSC) and moves them into a tie for fourth place on the Big Sky table, while Vikings (12-13, 5-9 BSC) have now dropped six of their last 10 games by six points or less.
Montana once again built a big lead early in the second half, going up by as many as 14 with 11 minutes to play, only to see the Vikings storm back and make it a one-point game with seconds to play.
The Grizzlies kept their composure with time winding down, however, hitting 10 free throws in the last minute to seal the win and put the memories of Thursday’s loss behind them.
“You’ve got to screw your head on right,” said Grizzly head coach Travis DeCuire, now 4-1 against the Vikings.
“I think we all went and looked in the mirror, including myself going into this thing, and we walked in the locker room this afternoon focused and ready to play. It was probably our most serious walk-through we’ve had all year, and I’m happy with the way we responded.”
Sophomore guard Ahmaad Rorie – who scored a career-high 29 points in his previous outing against PSU – nearly did the same on Saturday, netting a game-high 28 points and dishing out another game-high of five assists.
As a whole, Montana shared the ball exceptionally well with 19 assists – the team’s third-highest total of the season – making shot selection a top priority.
“That was our number one key tonight, 19 assists,” added DeCuire. “We shared the ball, and we didn’t take bad shots.”
The results of Montana’s unselfish shot selection were 15 points for Michael Oguine, who was a one-man highlight reel, and a season-high 10 points for Bobby Moorehead, who also came up big defensively with six rebounds.
For DeCuire, the success of players like Moorehead was no stroke of luck, more a reflection of improved decision making across the board as UM shot 48 percent from the floor.
“That’s what lucky is. It’s doing the right things and putting yourself in a position to actually have luck” added DeCuire.
Montana also won the battle of the boards against the Vikings, outrebounding the visitors 38-32 led by junior forward Fabijan Krslovic with 11 – six of which were on the offensive end of the court – followed by Moorehead’s six boards and five each from Oguine and Jack Lopez.
Montana has now outrebounded its opponent in five-straight games and is 4-1 in the win-loss column in that span.
“I think we’re focused, and I think we’re playing more physical than we were at the beginning of the year – blocking off and making contact for guys to go get the ball,” said DeCuire.
“That plays a major role in guys like Bobby (Moorhead’s) minutes. He hadn’t been shooting the ball very well, but he’s been playing a lot because of his defense and the fact he goes and gets the ball. His six rebounds tonight were huge.”
The Grizzlies came out flat after senior night celebrations to start the game, allowing the Vikings to score the opening six points. Montana answered with a quick 6-0 run of their own, however, and took its first lead of the game at 13-10 after a Jack Lopez three.
Oguine put all 4,465 fans on their feet with an and-one poster slam at the 13-minute mark. Bobby Moorehead hit a triple a minute later to give Montana its biggest lead of the first half at 21-14.
Jared Samuelson made sure the energy inside Dahlberg Arena stayed high a couple of minutes later, cutting through the lane and throwing down a strong two-handed slam that started a streak of five consecutive makes from the field for Montana.
Portland State couldn’t get back within five points for the remainder of the half, and a bucket from Samuelson sent the Grizzlies to the locker room with a 44-37 lead after a fast-paced first half.
The pace of the first half took a toll on both sides coming out of the break. After scoring on the opening possession, the Vikings went over four minutes without a point. The Grizzlies couldn’t create much separation, however, missing five straight shots of their own while keeping a single-digit lead.
Walter Wright gave Montana its first double-digit lead with just under 12 minutes remaining with a pair of free throws. Samuelson added an and-one on the next possession to cap a 7-0 run that made it 58-44 Montana.
The Vikings then went into a full-court pressure defense that gave Montana some problems, allowing the Vikings to score six points in 11 seconds and cut the lead back down to eight with seven minutes left.
Montana’s offense continued to struggle against the press, with the lead dwindling down to just five points with four minutes to go.
Rorie made a big play for the Grizzlies, finishing a left-handed layup through a foul. He received a technical after the basket, however, and the Vikings converted both free throws to keep the lead at five. A basket on the next trip down for Portland State made it a one-possession game.
After a Grizzly free throw, Khari Holloway banked in a three to cut Montana’s lead to jsut one point.
Oguine found space in the corner and knocked down a triple to extend the lead back to 72-68. Moorehead worked his way to the same spot on Montana’s next possession and drilled a trey of his own to give the Griz a seven-point lead with 68 seconds left.
Portland State cut it back to four until senior Mario Dunn hit a pair of clutch free throws to bring UM’s lead back up to six.
Two possessions later, Montana was holding a four-point lead but then fouled Deontae North on a three-point attempt with two seconds left to give the Vikings hope. He converted all three to cut the Griz lead to 83-82.
Rorie then got redemption from Thursday night’s misses with a pair of made free throws to ice the game with one second remaining.
They don’t get any easier from here, as Montana now prepares for a massive rivalry showdown next Saturday against Montana State in Bozeman. The game will not only serve as the rubber match between the cross-state rivals but will also break the tie for fourth place in the league standings.
The Brawl of the Wild game will be televised statewide on SWX Montana.