CollegeMontana Grizzlies


Montana men handle Idaho State to set up Cat-Griz battle for Big Sky Conference title

Montana vs. Idaho State men's basketball
Posted at 10:52 PM, Mar 12, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-13 10:33:50-04

BOISE, Idaho — Let's Brawl.

This time for the Big Sky Conference men's basketball championship.

Montana will meet rival Montana State for the league title Wednesday after the Grizzlies handled Idaho State 72-58 in the semifinal round of the conference tournament Tuesday at Idaho Central Arena.

"I think you saw a result of our chemistry," said Montana coach Travis DeCuire, who earned his 200th career win Tuesday. "For Aanen Moody to have 27 points (Monday) night and (Josh) Vazquez scored double figures, to turn around and have (Dischon Thomas) have 21 and Laolu (Oke) to have the highest plus/minus at 27 for us tonight speaks to our depth, speaks to our versatility, but also our willingness to allow others to succeed when it’s their turn and their time, and I think that’s what’s gotten us to the championship game."

The Grizzlies secured their place in this year's title game with an impressive wire-to-wire win over the upset-minded Bengals, who knocked off second-seeded Northern Colorado in a quarterfinal game on Sunday. Montana never let the noise of a potential upset get too loud Tuesday, as it scored the first five points of the game and led by 10 less than eight minutes in.

An 8-0 run aided Idaho State in getting within 17-15, but the Griz responded with a 10-0 burst behind 3-pointers from Brandon Whitney and Josh Vazquez, a reverse layup by Aanen Moody and two free throws from Dischon Thomas.

Thomas, who was quiet in Montana's quarterfinal win over Portland State, had 13 first-half points against the Bengals and 21 for the game.

"Just next man up mentality," Thomas said. "We had the fouls (against Portland State), it is what it is. … We’ve had great chemistry, guys stayed ready, and that was the end result. Guys stepped up."

After leading 33-21 at halftime, Montana ballooned the lead to 20 less than eight minutes into the second half. Whitney scored eight of Montana's first 10 points of the half before Moody, Vazquez and Moody again canned triples. Another Moody jumper made it 54-34 with 12 minutes to play.

The Bengals nearly made things interesting, though, holding the Griz scoreless for more than five minutes and scoring 11 unanswered points — eight from Miguel Tomley — to get back with 54-45.

"When we got up, I think we took our foot off the gas a little bit, but they didn’t," DeCuire said. "They got aggressive early, and Tommy did what Tommy does, is jump up and make shots."

Tomley had 22 points, but Idaho State shot only 22 of 55 for the game.

"Sometimes I think it takes some losses for a group to realize, you know what, there’s one way we can solve some of our issues, is on (the defensive) side of the ball, because you’re not going to make shots every time," DeCuire said. "And for us to be holding teams to 40% in the conference tournament right now is huge, because we weren’t able to do that earlier in the year."

The Griz were 26-of-47 shooting and 8 of 20 from 3-point range. Whitney scored 17 points, while Moody added 12. Laolu Oke had 10 points and eight rebounds.

Montana and Montana State will meet for the championship at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.

The Griz swept the regular-season series between the teams, winning 87-77 in Bozeman and 88-69 in Missoula. But the Bobcats have looked like a different team in Boise, scoring wins over Weber State and Sacramento State in which they've been red-hot from 3-point range.

Montana and Montana State have met 11 total times in the tournament, with the Griz holding a 6-5 head-to-head advantage. The only other time the Cats and Griz have played in the conference championship game was 1986 in Reno, Nevada. MSU won 82-77.

"There’s a lot that I’ll always remember about this matchup, more so about who’s coaching that team than necessarily what color uniform they’re wearing," said DeCuire, who has known Montana State coach Matt Logie since childhood.

"So, it’ll be a meaningful night for me," DeCuire continued, "but for this group, we’ve got some young men that have never been to the NCAA Tournament, and so there’s a lot of reason to go out and play desperate. It’s been our motto, one more time."