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Montana Grizzlies scorch the nets, pull away from Montana State for double-digit win

Jaxon Nap
Posted at 9:10 PM, Jan 20, 2024

BOZEMAN — Aanen Moody made sure his fingerprints were left on his final game at Worthington Arena.

Montana's leading scorer had a quiet first 29 minutes against rival Montana State Saturday but then hit four jumpers — including three 3-pointers — over the next 3:07 to key the Grizzlies to an 87-77 men's basketball win over the Bobcats. Moody, who entered the game averaging 15.4 points per game, scored 16 points as UM won the first Cat-Griz meeting of the season after MSU swept the season series last year.

"Personally, it means a lot to wear this uniform and to finally beat them," Moody said. "We talk a lot as a program what it means to win this game, especially at their place, and we put a lot of importance on it. It's just as important as those tournament games that we play at the end of the year, so it means a lot to us, and to finally get one of those wins personally means a lot, but I think as a program it means even more."

Moody's second-half spurt helped take Montana's lead from 58-52 to 73-61. The Bobcats wouldn't get closer than seven the rest of the way.

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The teams played to a near statistical stalemate through the first 29 minutes, both converting 60% of their shots with the Griz holding a slight advantage from 3-point range and at the free throw line.

In the early going, the Bobcats jumped out to a 16-8 lead as Brian Goracke, Robert Ford III and Brandon Walker got the Cats out to a fast start. But the Griz countered with a 14-0 run — getting big contributions from reserves Jaxon Nap and Te'Jon Sawyer — and ultimately went into halftime with a 38-36 lead.

"We talk to the guys a lot about being emotionally stable going into this game because we knew the crowd's going to be rowdy, calls don't always go your way, ball doesn't always bounce your way, and the team that can play through the emotions the best typically wins this game," said Montana coach Travis DeCuire. "I think that that helped us when they started out hot, and we settled in, found a way to get some stops and kind of fought our way into a small lead."

After the entertaining, back-and-forth first half, Montana roared out to a sizzling second half. The Griz scored 49 points after the break, shooting 19 of 29 from the floor, including a 6-of-8 mark from 3-point range, to pull away for the double-digit victory. Moody scored 14 of his points in the second half, while the steady Josh Vazquez added 11 of his 14 points after halftime.

Nap, 17 points on 4-of-5 shooting, and Sawyer, 16 on 7-of-8, accounted for 33 points off Montana's bench. Montana State got just two points from its bench.

"I'm a shooter, that's kind of what I'm known for," said Nap, who made two 3-pointers. "So being able to get opportunities while my teammates set me up to where I can basically finish the play and do the thing that I feel most confident with, and then being able to do it after I practice over the course of my life, especially on this stage, the adrenaline rush is crazy."

Brandon Whitney added 15 points, six rebounds and six assists for Montana, which finished the game making 32 of 52 field goal attempts. The Griz were 9 of 14 from 3-point range and 14 of 17 at the free throw line.

Ford III had a huge game for Montana State, totaling 30 points, seven rebounds, three assists and five steals. Walker had 18 points, while Goracke added 13 and Turner III 12.

"Obviously, you've got to credit Montana. I thought their experience showed up (Saturday)," said Montana State coach Matt Logie, who was coaching in his first Cat-Griz game. "We got off to a good start, got behind, guys fought back, had it down to two at the half. At that point, it's anyone's game. Ultimately, it just came down to get stops tonight. Normally, you score 77 points, you're going to have a pretty good chance to win, but you can't allow someone to shoot 61% from the field. I thought Montana's bench, in particular Sawyer and Nap, did a really good job making an impact for them."

Montana (12-6 overall, 3-2 Big Sky Conference) is back home in Missoula on Monday to take on Weber State, while Montana State (8-10, 3-2) has a home game against Idaho State the same night.