Montana meets Penn State Wednesday, looking for second Power 5 shocker

The Grizzlies had been in this situation before, several times in fact. Hanging tough on a big-name opponent’s home court, and even leading. In previous instances – at Cal and Gonzaga three years ago and at USC and Ole Miss last year, just to name a few – Montana couldn’t get over the hump to earn a signature win.

“There was a sense of, ‘Here we go again,'” head coach Travis DeCuire said after the game. “But the message was, ‘Let’s make it happen. Let’s go find a way to win this game.'”

That they did. It wasn’t a perfect game, but it was pretty good. The Grizzlies out-rebounded Pitt, forced 19 turnovers and made the plays when they needed to. Trailing at the end of both periods, they went on runs to close both halves – a 16-7 run in the first half to go into the locker room with a lead and a 10-2 run in the second half to go up by two, eventually settling for overtime.

Then, in the extended period, Montana limited Pitt to 22 percent shooting en route to the elusive victory that the program has been searching for.

“We never got down,” DeCuire said. “We never gave up, we just kept fighting.”

Montana had lost 14 consecutive games against Power-5 opponents prior to its win over Pitt – a team from the ACC that has been to the NCAA tournament in 13 of the past 16 seasons. The victory was Montana’s first over a Power-5-conference team since defeating Oregon State in 2010.

DeCuire said afterward that the win is a partial arrival. The victory is huge, but means little if the team doesn’t use it as a springboard into the rest of the season, especially in March. The Grizzlies will get an opportunity to take the next step right away, as Montana travels to Penn State on Wednesday evening for the second of four games in the Legends Classic.

Penn State, from the Big Ten, is better than Pitt. The Nittany Lions are 2-0 on the young season and feature one of the best defenses (Penn State ranks seventh nationally for steals) and one of the best young guards (sophomore Tony Carr is averaging 26.5 points per game and ranks in the top 30 nationally for points and assists).

“Once again, you’re talking size and athleticism,” DeCuire said about Penn State. “Carr can go for 20, 30 every night and has the ability to score and get in the paint. In the post, from the 4 and the 5 positions, they’re athletic and long. We have to keep them from getting second shots and have to make them play at our pace. If we do that, we’ll have a chance.”

Montana has already made a statement. Now the Grizzlies want to make another.

Tipoff is slated for 5 p.m. MT and will be televised on the Big Ten Network. Those with cable packages that include the Big Ten Network can also stream the game at www.BTN2GO.com and on the BTN2GO app. Voice of the Griz Riley Corcoran will also have the call on 98.3 FM in Missoula and online.

SCOUTING PENN STATE

  • Like Montana, Penn State enters Wednesday’s game with a 2-0 record. The Nittany Lions opened the season with an 86-57 win over Campbell before defeating Fairleigh Dickinson, 81-57, on Sunday.
  • Tony Carr is picking up where he left off last season. The sophomore guard is averaging 26.5 points per game through two contests. He also has a team-most 14 assists and has made 22-of-24 free throws. Carr led PSU with 13.2 points per game last year, being named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team, and was one of 21 players nationally to be invited to compete with NBA stars at the prestigious Nike Skills Academy over the summer.
  • Carr ranks among the nation’s leaders for free-throws made (second), points per game (27th) and assists per game (30th).
  • Junior Josh Reaves (16.0) and sophomores Mike Watkins (15.0) and Lamar Stevens (10.0) are also averaging double figures for scoring. Reaves is also PSU top rebounder (8.5 per game) and steals leader (seven; 34th in NCAA).
  • Through two games, PSU’s opponents are narrowly out-shooting the Nittany Lions, but PSU is leading the rebounding margin by 11.5 and has forced 24.5 turnovers (13.0 steals; seventh in NCAA).
  • PSU is 22-11 at home over the past two-plus seasons, and holds a current streak of four con-secutive wins over ranked foes.
  • After back-to-back winning seasons, a young Penn State roster went 15-18 in 2016-17. PSU’s freshmen class, which was ranked in the top-25 nationally, made 90 starts.
  • PSU returned all five starters from last year’s team.
  • The Nittany Lions ranked among the Big Ten leaders last year for blocked shots and steals.
  • Patrick Chambers is in his seventh season at PSU. He has compiled an 89-109 record.
  • PSU has earned nine NCAA tournament berths in its history, most-recently in 2011.

SERIES VS. THE NITTANY LIONS
Montana and Penn State have never before met on the hardwood. Montana is 3-14 all-time against current members of the Big Ten, beating Nebraska in 1959-60 and 1982-83, and Minnesota in 2006-07. Montana is seeking its first win on a Big Ten opponent’s home court.

STARTING STRONG
Montana is off to its first 2-0 start to a season since the 2009-10 squad began the year with three con-secutive wins. That team finished with a 22-10 record, winning a Big Sky championship and advancing to the NCAA tournament.

SWINGING THE MOMENTUM AT PITT
Montana led for nearly 24 minutes against Pitt (Nov. 13), including by as many as seven points. Below are a couple key stats that led the Grizzlies to victory:

  • Montana forced Pitt into 19 turnovers, turning them into 30 points. Two of the turnovers were offensive charges, one taken by Karl Nicholas and another by Fabijan Krslovic. Krslovic finished with a team-most nine rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals.
  • Montana out-rebounded Pitt, 39-38, including 14-12 on the offensive glass.
  • Montana overcame foul trouble – three players finished the game with four fouls – and a slow start at the free-throw line. The Grizzlies began the game just 4-for-11 from the charity stripe before finishing 12-of-14 down the stretch – including 10 makes in a row at one point – to put the game out of reach.
  • The Grizzlies held the lead for 23:46, compared to 14:07 for the Panthers.
  • After trailing by a game-most seven points, 28-21, with under 5 minutes to play in the first half, Montana closed the half on a 16-7 run to head into the intermission leading by two, 37-35.
  • The Grizzlies started the game 0-for-7 from three-point range before Ahmaad Rorie hit back-to-back threes late in the first half. Bobby Moorehead followed with two more, giving the Grizzlies 12 consecutive points off of three-pointers and a 33-32 advantage.
  • Trailing by four, 69-65, with under 3 minutes to play, Montana went on an 8-2 run over the next 2 minutes to take a 73-71 advantage. Oguine scored all eight points for the Griz.
  • After alternating baskets to begin overtime, Montana scored to take a 79-77 lead and then held Pitt without a made field goal over its final three attempts.