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Montana Grizzlies overcome early deficit, rally past Idaho

Brandon Whitney
Posted at 10:14 PM, Feb 01, 2024

MISSOULA — The Montana men's basketball team got all it could handle from Idaho Thursday at Dahlberg Arena, but Brandon Whitney, Te'Jon Sawyer and Dischon Thomas proved too much down the stretch, as the Grizzlies rallied for a 73-70 win.

Montana trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half and didn't take the lead in the second half until Whitney got into the lane and finished a tough basket through contact. His and-one free throw gave Montana a 70-68 lead with 59 seconds left, the Grizzlies' first lead since they had an 11-9 advantage five minutes into the game.

Idaho answered seconds later when D'Angelo Minnis drove baseline and scored the game-tying lay-up. But the Vandals fought foul trouble all game — Idaho had 21 total fouls compared to just eight for Montana — and sent Montana's Jaxon Nap to the free throw line on the ensuing Griz possession. Nap calmly sank both free throws with 27 seconds left.

After an Idaho timeout and Nap foul on Quinn Denker, the Vandals inbounded the ball from under their own basket with 6 seconds left. Idaho junior Julius Mims missed a baseline jumper short, and Montana's Josh Vazquez secured the rebound and iced the win with a free throw at the other end.

Mims, a Billings Skyview High School product, had an impressive showing in the loss. He scored 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including hammering home three thunderous dunks. His first two dunks came in the first half during an Idaho 15-0 run that saw the Vandals turn an 11-6 deficit into a 21-11 advantage. The Griz chipped away at the deficit behind a strong offensive showing from Sawyer. He scored seven points over a three-minute stretch before Aanen Moody and Giordan Williams each made 3-pointers to help Montana get back within 40-37 at halftime.

Idaho maintained its lead throughout much of the second half, growing it back to 66-59 with 5:31 left when Mims drilled a triple from the wing. But Vazquez and Thomas banged in back-to-back 3s to quickly bring the Griz back to 66-65. Denker and Nap traded lay-ups, and Idaho clung to a 68-67 lead with a minute and change to play. That's when Whitney's three-point play gave Montana the lead, and the Griz secured the win.

Whitney, Sawyer and Thomas each scored 14 points to lead Montana. Thomas added a game-high 12 rebounds. As a team, Montana made 17 of 23 free throw attempts. Idaho was just 5 of 6 from the free throw line.

Denker scored his 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting. He also had five assists and five rebounds but also six turnovers.

Montana (15-7 overall, 6-3 Big Sky Conference) is back in action Saturday against Eastern Washington. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Dahlberg Arena.

Idaho (7-14, 1-7) next plays at Montana State. The Vandals and Bobcats tip off at 6 p.m. Saturday inside Worthington Arena.