Brandon Gfeller got a clean three-point shot off as time expired for the Montana Grizzlies, but the ball glanced off the back of the rim, and the Sacramento State Hornets walked away from Dahlberg Arena with a 67-65 upset over the Griz Thursday night.
Montana (13-14, 8-6 BSC) had a chance to tie the game with seven seconds on the clock when sophomore guard Ahmaad Rorie was fouled going to the hoop. Both of his shots from the charity stripe rattled out, however, leading to Sacramento State’s (10-14, 7-6 BSC) first-ever regular season win in Missoula.
Montana is now tied for fifth in the Big Sky standings alongside Montana State at 8-6 in conference play.
Hornet junior forward Justin Strings was dominant in the post for the visitors, putting up a career-high 29 points, 21 of which came in the second half.
Montana led by as many as nine early in the second half after going into the break up 34-27, paced my Michael Oguine, who finished with a team-high 12 points and seven rebounds.
Three players scored in double figures for the Griz. Rorie finished with 10 points and six assists but was held largely in check by the Hornets. Walter Wright also put up 10 points for the Griz in Montana’s first loss this season when holding its opponent under 70 points.
Brandon Gfeller went 3-of-5 from behind the arc, putting him at 200 career three-pointers. The senior from Colfax, Washington now needs just 19 more triples to break Montana’s school record for threes in a career.
It was a back-and-forth affair with a total of 12 lead changes, largely thanks to the 25 turnovers between the two teams. Coming into the game, Montana was tied at No. 21 in the nation in fewest turnovers per game, but gave the ball up 13 times against the zone defense of the Hornets.
Sac. State controlled much of the early action, but a burst of energy from Oguine helped Montana take the lead halfway through the opening period. Oguine notched a tip-in basket on back-to-back possessions and scored again shortly after to put Montana ahead 15-12.
Wright shouldered the offense late in the half, going on a quick 5-0 on his own that gave the Grizzlies their biggest lead of the game at 27-22 with just over four minutes remaining.
Montana had built the lead up to eight just before halftime after some buckets from Jared Samuelson, but a late foul allowed the Hornets to cut the halftime deficit to 34-27.
Early in the second, Oguine tracked down a long rebound and broke ahead of the pack, rising for a slam that made the Montana lead more comfortable at nine.
The Hornets were able to close down the gap with a 6-0 run, however, that included two free throws after head coach Travis DeCuire received a technical foul for Montana. Brandon Gfellerended the run with his third trey of the game, giving Montana a 44-38 advantage.
But Sacramento State wouldn’t quit, and the Hornets were able to retake the lead, 51-50, with just over six minutes remaining on a bucket from Strings.
And Strings wouldn’t’ stop there. The 6-foot-7 wing scored the Hornets’ also scored the next eight Hornets points on his own to put the visitors on top 59-55 at the final media timeout.
Rorie provided the answer for the Montana, scoring four straight on his own, including an improbable left-handed flip through contact, to tie the game back up at 59-all.
Sacramento State retook the lead 62-61, but once again Rorie scored, going straight into the body of 6-11 forward Eric Stuteville and floating a shot over the top. The two side then traded free throws, but Lopez couldn’t connect on his second, and the game entered the final minute tied at 64.
Samuelson gave Montana the lead back with a free throw after being fouled hauling in a defensive rebound with 34 seconds remaining.
On the next Sacramento possession, Strings executed a perfect backdoor cut for an easy lay-in to put the Hornets in front 66-65.
Montana put the ball in Rorie’s hands on the other end. After missing a jumper from the baseline, Rorie was fouled on the rebound and went to the line for two shots with seven seconds remaining.
Both shots rattled in-and-out, and Sacramento State went to the other end for a pair from the charity stripe. Marcus Graves made the first, but the second wouldn’t fall, and Montana got one more chance, calling timeout with 1.8 seconds left.
They looked to Gfeller on the ensuing in-bounds play, who got a three from the top of the key that hit the back iron, giving Sac. State the win.
Montana hosts Portland State on Senior Night this coming Saturday in the final home game of the year before closing out the regular season with three-straight road games.