MISSOULA — The Montana men's basketball team let a 10-point lead slip late as they fell to Northern Colorado 98-92 in overtime on Thursday evening in front of 2,362 fans at Dahlberg Arena.
Jaxon Nap knocked down a 3-pointer with 4:49 to play that gave the Grizzlies a 78-68 lead. But the Bears rallied thanks in large part to a huge game from forward Saint Thomas who finished with 37 points and 14 rebounds in the game.
With the game tied 82-82, UM had a pair of chances to win it before the buzzer but both Brandon Whitney and Aanen Moody missed shots that sent the game into overtime.
There, the Grizzlies couldn't keep pace with UNC's offense as UM struggled defensively all game. A costly turnover late by Whitney down three with 50 seconds to go also prevented the Griz from fully getting back into it as they fell to 10-6 overall and 1-2 in Big Sky Conference play. Meanwhile, Northern Colorado improved to 9-6 and 2-0.
"We lost a tough game," UM head coach Travis DeCuire said. "Tonight, we played well enough to win, we just gave the game up. We've got to be more consistent."
Whitney finished with 24 points while Dischon Thomas added 22 and 10 rebounds as those two paced UM's offense in the first half. UM turned the ball over four times in the final four minutes of regulation as Saint Thomas spurred the comeback by scoring 12 of UNC's final 14 points.
Josh Vazquez added 16 points and eight rebounds in the game, which was his 135th as a Grizzly which set a program record for most games played, breaking Mack Anderson's mark of 134 which he set last season. Te'Jon Sawyer added 15 points while Moody scored 10.
"(Whitney and Thomas) have been good offensively for a while, DeCuire said. "I just don't like where we're at defensively right now. We need to be more physical. We need to hold our ground better. We can't get backed down from 17 feet."
But he added about Vazquez, "I've got a lot of respect for Josh Vazquez, as much as I've had for any player I've coached because of his commitment to the program, his loyalty to the program. His willingness to sacrifice, to be a part of something that potentially could be special, regardless to what he gets out of it. That's hard to find these days and he's going to be successful later in life because he's built like that."
The Grizzlies shot 47.1% from the field and went 12 for 28 from deep. Northern Colorado meanwhile shot at a 50.7% rate from the field and went 5 for 15 from 3-point range. UM turned it over 14 times to UNC's six while the Bears punished the Grizzlies down low by scoring 52 points in the paint.
"You can't turn it over down the stretch. You can't give up 51% from the floor and then turn it over 14 times," DeCuire said. "That's a 28-point turnaround so if we just keep our turnovers under 10, we win by double figures."
Montana is home again on Saturday when it hosts Northern Arizona (7-9, 0-2), a team that eliminated them from the Big Sky Conference tournament last March in the semifinal round.