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Griz men can't overcome slow start in loss at undefeated Nevada

Laolu Oke
Posted at 4:43 PM, Nov 30, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-30 18:43:45-05

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

Montana outscored an undefeated Nevada team by 10 in the second half and won plenty of statistical categories against a team receiving votes to be ranked, but couldn’t overcome a cold first half shooting the ball in a 77-66 loss in Reno on Wednesday night.

The Grizzlies looked like a completely different team in the second half, where they had a season-best half with a 48-point outburst on offense. It wasn’t enough to erase a 21-point halftime deficit as the Wolf Pack moved to 5-0 on the season with the win.

Montana (2-4) will have a lot to take away from the game. There was a trio of massive performances on the Grizzly side with Laolu Oke, Aanen Moody, and Money Williams all having impressive games.

The most impressive stat line came from Oke, who hauled in a DI career-high 19 rebounds and added 13 points for his second Grizzly double-double. It’s the most rebounds in a game by a Montana player since Martin Breunig went for 19 in 2015.

He continued an impressive trend by grabbing nine of them on the offensive end. It’s the most offensive rebounds by a Grizzly since Brian Qvale grabbed 10 in a 2011 Brawl of the Wild. He’s also just the eighth player in the NCAA this season to record 19 rebounds in a game.

“One thing you’ve never got to be concerned about with (Oke) is how hard he will play,” head coach Travis DeCuire said. “They weren’t doing a good job of blocking off and he just wanted the ball and got us a lot of possessions.”

His night helped Montana outrebound Nevada. The Wolf Pack entered with a plus-10.0 rebounding margin per game, which ranked 16th in the NCAA. Montana won the battle on the glass 42-40. It’s the most rebounds in a game against a DI opponent for Montana this season.

The offense came alive in the second half to make it a ball game in the final minutes. Nevada held a 23-point lead with 14 minutes to play but Montana knocked it down to just an eight-point advantage with two minutes to go.

It was the Moody show in the second half as the veteran got red-hot and willed Montana back into the game with an impressive display from beyond the arc. He scored 18 second-half points on 7-of-13 shooting with four made three-pointers.

Money Williams had nine points and four rebounds in the second period to close out an impressive overall game from the freshman. He scored 15 points and pulled down a season-high seven rebounds.

The Grizzlies not only outrebounded the Wolf Pack, but they also had more assists (16-10), more bench points (22-19), more second-chance points (18-5), and the same amount of turnovers. The biggest disparity came at the free throw line, where Nevada went 30-for-38 and Montana made just 13-of-18 attempts.

Montana looked like a different team in the second half. They improved their field goal percentage by over 18 percent, made five more threes, and went from 33 percent at the free throw line in the first half to 92 percent in the second.

They came out of the locker room with a different lineup than they began the game with, opting for more offensive punch after a stagnant opening 20 minutes. It paid off as they erupted for a huge 48-point half.

“Some of that was adjustments, but more importantly in the locker room it was about having confidence in one another and confidence in yourself. We’re a good shooting team,” DeCuire said. “We’ve been in a little bit of a shooting slump and I think a lot of that has to do with the defenses we’ve played, but we’ve missed a lot of open shots. We just needed one guy to make one, and once Moody did it opened up other things for us.”

Moody got things started in a big way, silencing the crowd of nearly 7,000 fans with an unreal shooting display. He made a three at the 18-minute mark and followed it up on the next possession with a leaning three-pointer that forced a Nevada timeout.

Out of the break, Montana got another stop defensively and Moody hit a deep three from several feet beyond the line for a personal 9-0 run that cut the Nevada lead to 41-30. It was part of 11 straight points to start the second half for Montana.

It broke a streak of 13 straight misses from three for Montana, and 16 straight for Moody. The Grizzlies started the game 0-for-11 from three-point range.

Nevada answered back with 12 straight points of their own to push the lead up to a game-high 23 with just over 14 minutes to play. Montana went with a similar five the rest of the way. Josh Vazquez and Money Williams were both a positive three in the final plus/minus. Moody and Oke were crucial down the stretch as well.

“You get to a point where you’ve got to have a sense of pride and some fight,” DeCuire said. “I went with the fighters, the guys in the last couple games that have shown the most fight in tough circumstances and that’s all I was motivating was to compete, compete, compete.”

Oke had two straight possessions with an offensive rebound and put-back bucket to cut the lead to 19. Moody had another personal run, this time 5-0, a few minutes later that made it 63-50.

The aggression on offense played a huge role as well as Montana got to the free throw line much more often in the second half. They had a 6-0 run, with four of the points at the stripe, to get within single digits at 65-56 for the first time since it was 10-2 in the first half.

Montana kept it within single digits for several minutes, but would never get closer than eight points. Nevada made their free throws down the stretch, shooting an impressive 79 percent on 38 attempts. They scored 39 percent of their total points at the free throw line.

Nevada entered the game with the 12th best offensive in the country averaging 89 points per game. Montana held them to a season-low 77 points. They limited them to just 10 assists, which was over eight fewer than they average this season.

The Wolf Pack also allowed the fewest total rebounds in the country coming into the game, but were beaten on the glass by Montana. Oke improved his season-long rebounding numbers to 8.5 per game. He averages nearly six offensive rebounds per game.

Te’Jon Sawyer had a good performance off the bench. His stat line doesn’t reflect it, but he did end with two blocks in a very physical 12 minutes.

But more than anything else in the second half, seeing the ball go down changed the game for Montana.

“It was our stronger offensive punch,” DeCuire said. “Moody and Money have been pretty consistent scoring in double-figures. Our level of aggression offensively was just not good enough the last couple games, and I just said hey let’s put the best offensive lineup on the floor. At the same time, defensively we needed to be more physical and Sawyer with Oke gave us a stronger presence around the rim and we shut the paint down for a while.”

Money Williams had his fifth game in double figures to start his career and is now averaging 13.3 points per game this year. Moody responded from his only scoreless game as a Grizzly last Friday against Houston with a DI season-high 22 points. He now averages 15.8 per game.

Montana will return home on Saturday for an afternoon matinee against San Jose State. The Spartans lost 81-77 to Cal Poly on Wednesday night to snap a three-game winning streak. The game will tip at 1:00 p.m., an adjusted start time due to the playoff football game later that evening.