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Griz men bounce back behind big game from Brandon Whitney, top Idaho for first Big Sky win

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Posted at 6:03 PM, Dec 31, 2022

MISSOULA — Brandon Whitney scored 20 points and Josh Bannan added 16 as the Montana Grizzlies bounced back from Thursday's loss to Eastern Washington to beat Idaho 67-56 on Saturday afternoon in front of 3,337 fans at Dahlberg Arena.

Whitney scored 12 of UM's first 15 points as he got back on track after a difficult showing on Thursday against the Eagles. Whitney shot 8 for 15 from the field including 2 for 4 from deep.

"I thought we came out ready to play," Whitney said. "We had to bounce back after our performance two days ago. I think we had a chip on our shoulder and we were ready to get one.

"Last game, I didn't have a very good game. I was in foul trouble early so I knew I had to bounce back. This game against Idaho had been on my mind all night and it was even kind of hard for me to sleep after what happened the other night, so I think that was part of me coming out ready to play."

Bannan helped take over the load on offense in the second half, going 7 for 10 from the field and grabbing seven rebounds. Dischon Thomas added eight points and eight boards, Aanen Moody tallied nine points while Josh Vazquez filled the stat sheet off the bench with six points, four rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals.

"Obviously we were frustrated with Thursday, that was a tough loss, so it was important that we bounced back today," Bannan said. "I thought energy was a bit better and we responded pretty well, but still a lot of ways we can get better."

Montana built it's big lead early with a 23-10 advantage before going into halftime up 33-20.

While Idaho chipped away down the stretch, a jumper from Moody and a 3-pointer from Vazquez with under a minute to play sealed the game for the Grizzlies (7-7, 1-1 Big Sky) who picked up their first Big Sky Conference victory of the season. Idaho — which was led by Isaac Jones who had 25 points — fell to 6-9 overall and 0-2 in league play.

The Griz shot the ball at a 43.1% clip from the field and were 7 for 21 from deep but turned the ball over just six times. Idaho, meanwhile, shot at a 34.8% rate from the field and was 6 for 20 from three and committed 11 turnovers.

"Defense wins," Griz coach Travis DeCuire said. "If you can hold your opponent to a low field goal percentage, you don't have to be perfect offensively to win and that's basically the difference between two games.

"Winning plays, contested shots, loose balls, defensive rebounding. Just minimizing their opportunities for high-percentage shots."

The Grizzlies hit the road next week and play at Northern Arizona (4-11, 0-2) on Thursday before playing at Northern Colorado (5-8, 0-1) on Saturday.