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Aanen Moody scores career-high 36 to help Montana Grizzlies past North Dakota State

Montana at North Dakota State
Posted at 10:28 PM, Jan 03, 2024

(Editor's note: University of Montana news release)

FARGO, N.D. — Montana played its fifth straight road game on Wednesday night in Fargo, but for Aanen Moody, the Scheels Center felt like home. The North Dakota native returned to his home state and had a career night leading Montana to a 96-86 win.

Moody scored a career-high 36 points on a fantastic shooting night to become the first Grizzly since 2018 to score at least 35 in a game. The senior had a large section of friends and family in attendance, and dazzled the crowd all night with spectacular shot after spectacular shot.

“Amazing. For my last year, I just don’t think you can ask for anything better than that, just having all your friends and family here. It’s four hours away, so it’s not a quick haul but they made it out and it’s just a great situation.”

He had 20 points in the first half and ended the night shooting nearly 70 percent from the field, 60 percent from three, and 100 percent at the free throw line.

“He couldn’t have picked a better time to catch fire,” head coach Travis DeCuire said. “Obviously, it’s a homecoming for him. It’s his last opportunity to play in front of family and friends, so we couldn’t be happier from him.”

The Griz (9-5, 1-1 Big Sky) had a season-best 96 points and shot 57.4 percent from the floor, which is a new season high against D1 competition. It’s also the third time in the last four games that Montana has shot better than 50 percent, and is the most points allowed by the Bison this season.

They scored a season high 43 points in the first half and then one-upped it with 53 in the second half, shooting 62 percent from the field, 50 percent from three, and 100 percent from the free throw line as a team.

It’s the most points in a game for Montana against a D1 opponent since scoring 100 against Idaho on Feb. 7, 2019.

The charity stripe is a strength for Montana, and they proved it again in the win. The Griz shot 20-for-21 from the free-throw line in the game with five players having perfect nights.

Brandon Whitney scored 17 and dished out six assists. Josh Vazquez had 15, and Dischon Thomas had his second straight double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. He set his career high with 11 rebounds in Montana’s last game and matched it on Wednesday.

“I thought our group effort and offensive execution was big tonight to lose what we’ve lost and have (Oke) not at 100 percent and come out and still be able to put 96 on the board is pretty impressive by this group,” DeCuire said.

It’s been an impressive stretch for Whitney and Thomas over the last two games. Whitney is averaging 18.5 points, 7.5 assists, and 4.5 rebounds in the two wins. Thomas is averaging 15.5 points and 11.0 rebounds.

“They are good players. When they are aggressive, they perform,” DeCuire said. “I think the most important thing for them is to maintain their level of aggression regardless of what happened the possession before or the game before.”

The win also counts for 1.5 points in the Big Sky-Summit Challenge. They will have a chance to score another point with a home win against South Dakota on Saturday.

Montana won wire-to-wire for the fifth time this season, jumping out to an early lead and never looking back. They played a tight rotation with just seven players hitting the floor. It was actually a bit of a struggle shooting early on for both sides as Montana led 10-5 early despite a 3-of-10 start.

Thomas played a big role in that with three offensive rebounds in the opening minutes. He also had two early blocks and now has multiple swats in three of the last four games.

Moody started to open things up, scoring seven straight Griz points as part of a 9-0 run that made it 15-5. The Bison climbed slowly back into it, but another 7-0 Grizzly run extended the lead to 28-16. Moody had 16 of Montana’s first 28 points, shooting 7-for-9 in the process.

The Griz took a 43-31 lead into the locker room after a bucket from Whitney in the final seconds. They led by double digits for most of the second half and when Thomas knocked down a three with 2:49 to play Montana led by a game-high 15 points.

The home crowd at the Scheels Center helped spark a comeback down the stretch as they put together an 11-2 run that cut the Grizzly lead to 88-82. It was the closest the game had been since a 21-16 Montana lead early in the first half.

The Grizzlies committed just five turnovers in the game, a season low, but had a giveaway late that led to six Bison points in just eight seconds.

The Bison continued pressuring the length of the court down the stretch, but Montana were able to break it, leading to a wide-open dunk for Thomas with 50 seconds to play. Moody went 4-for-4 from the free throw line down the stretch to cap a perfect 7-for-7 night from the stripe.

It was a historic night for the Dickinson, N.D. product, who celebrated on the floor following the game with a big crowd.

“This game is a historic game for me. I’ve played this team, I’ve played in this arena two times before this,” Moody said. “My brother played football here, my sister played volleyball here, my brother has five championship rings. I have a little bit of animosity against them as a former North Dakota player as well, so it’s a rivalry inside my heart that wants to beat them every time I play them.”

The longest road trip in 17 years comes to an end with a 4-1 overall record and some impressive wins. The Grizzlies also won three straight non-conference road games for the first time since 2005. They now return home to play South Dakota on Saturday.

The trip included an injury to Money Williams, who at the time of his injury ranked second in the entire NCAA in usage percentage according to KenPom.com. It made Wednesday night that much more special.

It also makes up for a home loss to North Dakota State back in November. The Grizzlies are 5-1 at home, and have now improved to 4-4 on the road.

“I think it would be easy for us to complain about the situation,” DeCuire said. “We didn’t schedule the five consecutive road games, but you have to make the most of every opportunity. This was a team that beat us at home. It’s our one home loss at this point in time and we had an opportunity to kind of repay the favor and avenge the loss.”

The Griz will honor the life of Anthony Johnson in Saturday’s contest. The Griz legend passed away at the age of 37 before the start of the season. Montana is wearing special patches on their uniforms this year to honor Johnson.

“It’s important that Anthony is remembered and celebrated moving forward, so I’m excited about that,” DeCuire said. “It will be important for us to bring home a win for his family while they are in town.”