Eastern Washington hands Montana men 1st conference loss

Posted at 11:32 PM, Feb 15, 2018


CHENEY, Wash. — Montana’s historic stretch came to an end on Thursday night, falling at Eastern Washington, 74-65. The loss snapped Montana’s 13-game win streak, which was one game shy of a school record. It also ended Montana’s school-record seven-game road winning streak.

Montana last lost 55 days ago, a three-point defeat at Washington.

“We had a really good shootaround today, and I thought we’d have some energy going into this game,” head coach Travis DeCuire said. “I just don’t think we played hard enough.”

The two teams were in a back-and-forth contest, trading leads early on. Eastern Washington broke a 25-25 tie with 5:42 to play in the first half, however, and led for the remainder of the contest.

Montana trailed by just 3 at halftime, 35-32, but opened the second half with four uncharacteristic turnovers on its first five possessions; the Grizzlies turned the ball over just three times in the entire first half.

Still, though, Montana was well within striking distance. The Grizzlies again got to within a single possession when Sayeed Pridgett secured a loose ball in EWU territory and drove it the length of the court, nearly completing a highlight-reel dunk. Instead, he was fouled, and hit both free throws to cut the score to 60-57 with 4:27 to play.

The Eagles, though, would score 11 of the next 15 points to take a double-digit lead – Montana’s largest deficit of conference play.

“I felt like we’ve been playing with fire for three or four weeks now, and now that we’ve been burned, I think we have the chance to wake up and play with that effort we did in December,” DeCuire said.

Montana allowed EWU to shoot 56.3 percent from the floor – a season high for a UM opponent – and knock down seven three-pointers (43.8 percent). The Grizzlies were 6-of-22 from long range, missing their first nine attempts of the second half.

Pridgett had one of his best games of the season, scoring 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting. At one point in the second half, the sophomore scored nine consecutive Griz points. Following those nine points, Pridgett followed with a steal and an assist on an Ahmaad Rorie dunk to make it a 52-50 game with 8 minutes to play.

Senior Fabijan Krslovic was perfect from the floor, shooting 4-of-4 to collect a dozen points and two steals. Rorie scored 18 points, including four three-pointers, and added four assists.

Montana struggled for the majority of the game to get the ball inside. Junior Jamar Akoh was held to seven points, and with 14 minutes to play, Montana had taken more three-point attempts (17) than two-pointers (15). The Grizzlies also had just seven offensive rebounds, nearly half of their season average.

“Offensive rebounds come from energy and effort, and I thought our energy has been down,” DeCuire said. “They squeezed on the bigs and bated guys into quick, early 3s. We were reluctant to move the ball.”

EWU’s all-conference performer Bogdan Bliznyuk scored 19 points but was held relatively in check. After starting the game 7-of-8 shooting, he made just one of his final five shots over the last 25 minutes of the game.

With just one loss in conference play, Montana still owns at least a 1.5-game lead over second-place Weber State with four games to play. The Grizzlies have a steep challenge up ahead, facing Idaho on Saturday night. The Vandals are 10-3 and were the preseason favorites to win the league.

“You’ve got to move on,” DeCuire said. “We move on from wins and we have to move on from losses the same way. We told them what they need to hear in the locker room, and now it’s up to them to make those adjustments.”