MISSOULA — After losing a lead and dropping a heartbreaker to Northern Colorado on Thursday, the Montana Grizzlies men's basketball team left no doubt on Saturday evening in Missoula.
UM blew out Northern Arizona 90-47 in front of 2,968 fans at Dahlberg Arena to get back in the win column and improve to 11-6 overall and 2-2 in Big Sky Conference play. From start to finish, the Grizzlies dominated as they out-defended, out-shot and out-hustled the Lumberjacks at every turn in a get-back victory against a program that eliminated the Griz from the Big Sky tournament last March.
The 43-point margin of victory was Montana's largest Big Sky win since 1997, per UM.
Dischon Thomas was a key force behind that as he scored UM's first 11 points and finished with 22 — all in the first half — as he went 5 for 8 from deep. Aanen Moody added 19 points and Te'Jon Sawyer tacked on 10 and Josh Vazquez added nine.
"It's huge," UM head coach Travis DeCuire said of getting Thomas going early. "It spreads the floor out when the post has to come out and guard him and you've got one guy in the paint. It creates a lot more production for us offensively, more flow. It provides a lot of balance for us."
Laolu Oke finished with 10 rebounds and six points while Brandon Whitney dished out 11 assists and added seven points. Sophomore Jaxon Nap, who has seen his role increase this past week, added six points, two rebounds and two assists and once again defended well like he did against the Bears on Thursday.
"Defense wins, right? And really it was more about our execution on the defensive side of the ball," DeCuire said about the team's effort on that side of the ball. "Being in the right places, our intent. Sometimes guys are between their man and the basket and they're not necessarily trying to make them miss and I thought we did a better job of contested shots, keeping the ball out of the paint. For a long stretch they couldn't even get it inside and when they couldn't get what they were looking for they had to go to plan B, plan C.
"If you can make teams go to plan B, plan C then you're probably going to get a lot of stops."
The Grizzlies led 47-24 at halftime and never let off the gas in the win. UM shot a scorching 52.9% and 14 for 27 from beyond the arc. They also held the Lumberjacks (7-10, 0-3) to 37% shooting and just 1 for 12 from 3-point range. UM forced 13 turnovers and out-rebounded NAU 41 to 30 and racked up 21 assists, led by Whitney's performance which was a career high. Even down the stretch, freshmen and Montana products Connor Dick and Rhett Reynolds got in the game and both scored, including a deep 3-pointer from Reynolds.
"I think it shows how well we deal with pressure. There was a lot of pressure after losing a game like (Northern Colorado) that we should've had and you don't want to let another one slip away," Moody said. "And we made sure tonight that there wasn't going to be a situation that they were going to be able to come back from."
UM now turns its attention toward rival Montana State as the Grizzlies and Bobcats will meet for the first time next Saturday in Bozeman.