(Editor’s note: University of Montana media release)
MISSOULA – The Montana Grizzlies found another way to grind out a win on Saturday evening, overcoming poor second-half shooting to beat Sacramento State in overtime, 71-69. The Grizzlies are now a perfect 13-0 in Big Sky Conference play, and with the win earned a bye into the conference tournament quarterfinals.
“You talk about adversity and grinding out wins, and you can’t really define it to your team until it happens,” head coach Travis DeCuire said. “We scrapped, and I think we needed that. I think we got better tonight. I think we got tougher.”
Sacramento State used a 13-0 run early in the second half to hand Montana its largest deficit of the conference season (50-41). The Grizzlies would chip away and get within two points on several occasions, but with 2:55 remaining, the Hornets still led by five, 61-56.
They wouldn’t score again in regulation.
Over its final five possessions, Sacramento State went 0-for-2 from the floor, 0-for-3 from the free-throw line and turned the ball over once.
“It’d be easy to look at the scoreboard and go, ‘Man, it’s not our night,'” DeCuire said. “They didn’t do that. Guys stuck together and they just found a way to get a stop when we needed one and get a bucket when we needed one.”
Perhaps the biggest play came with 22 seconds remaining and Montana still trailing by one. On the in-bounds play, senior Fabijan Krslovic deflected the ball and was able to keep it from going out of bounds. The save not only kept Montana from having to foul, but gave the Grizzlies the opportunity to tie the game.
They would, with Krslovic knocking down a free throw to knot the score at 61-61.
The drama was far from over, however.
With 11 seconds to play and the game tied, junior Jamar Akoh was whistled on the other end – his fifth foul of the game – which sent James Herrick to the line for a one-and-one and the chance to give the Hornets the lead. He missed, and Michael Oguine drove the length of the court, nearly laying in the game-winner.
Instead, the game went to overtime, where the Griz defense was again superb. Sacramento State made just 2-of-8 shots in the extra period and turned the ball over.
With Montana leading by three, 69-66, the Griz once again stole the in-bounds pass. The Grizzlies capitalized, with Oguine making one of his two free-throw shots to give Montana a two-possession lead with 7 seconds left.
“We hung together,” DeCuire said. “We continued to have confidence in each other down the stretch. We tried to get the ball to the right places and take the extra pass. We grinded it out.”
Oguine finished with a game-high 25 points, including 4-of-5 shooting from three-point range in the first half. He scored 11 of the Grizzlies’ first 18 points. He also added four assists and seven rebounds.
Akoh recorded his third consecutive double-double with 13 points and 10 boards, and drew several fouls that led to the Hornets’ two big men fouling out with several minutes left in regulation. Ten of his 13 points came during the final 8:24 of regulation.
Krslovic did it all for the Griz, recording nine points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocked shots in a career-high 42 minutes – not to mention playing a key role in Sacramento State’s lack of scoring down the stretch.
“Fab was phenomenal,” DeCuire said. “He gave us three straight buckets down low and got the ball to Jamar a couple times, and then Mike does what he does.”
The Griz won despite shooting 38 percent – including 28 percent following halftime. Montana shot 54 percent in the first half and entered the locker room leading by three, 34-31, but the Hornets came out on fire, scoring 19 of the half’s first 26 points to take a 50-41 lead with 12 minutes to play. It was the Grizzlies’ largest deficit of conference play.
DeCuire credited his team’s 14 points off turnovers and 11 second-chance points. The Griz had 10 offensive rebounds to Sacramento State’s five; all 10 came in the second half.
Sacramento State’s Justin Strings scored 21 points but shot just 4-of-13 after halftime. The Grizzlies also forced him into five turnovers over the final 25 minutes.
“I thought Fab did a phenomenal job on Strings, and then Bob (Moorehead) came flying in for the rebounds.”
Montana will now take its unbeaten record on the road. The Grizzlies have five games remaining in the regular season – four of which are against teams they have yet to play. Montana will meet Eastern Washington on Thursday before traveling to third-place Idaho on Saturday. The Grizzlies, who are guaranteed a top-four finish and first-round bye, have a 2.5-game lead on second-place Weber State with three weeks remaining.