MISSOULA -- Kendal Manuel knocked down two free throws with 2.5 seconds left to lift the Montana Grizzlies to a 52-50 Big Sky Conference men's basketball win over Sacramento State on Monday night in Dahlberg Arena in front of 3,846 fans.
Manuel's free throws came after he was fouled driving across mid-court, after Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa tied the game 50-50 after making 1 of 2 free throw attempts with 5.2 seconds left.
Manuel finished with 13 points, including the final four for Montana, all from the line, as the Griz improved to 2-0 in Big Sky Conference play.
For him, he said he had no nerves in the moment.
"I feel like I've played enough college basketball to kind of calm myself down," Manuel said. "Especially in those kinds of situations I feel comfortable."
Manuel, who is shooting 93 percent from the line and has missed just three free throws all season, said he actually tried to miss the second one and just hit the rim and force Sac State into a tough position. He discussed it with head coach Travis DeCuire prior to the shot, but instead the ball swished through the net.
"And it still went in because I shot it flat and tried to miss it, but I guess it still wanted to go in," he said with a big laugh.
Sac State was unable to get the ball off in time as Montana walked off the court victorious.
"It's crazy how that happens," DeCuire added. "They got a good free throw shooter trying to make free throws and misses a tough one, and we come down here and we're trying to miss and make it. But this group's dialed in right now. We just ended the game, two nights back-to-back, like a team that knows how to finish off close games. A week ago we struggled with that.
"I think we're growing up a little bit and hope we can continue to do that."
Jared Samuelson and Sayeed Pridgett led Montana in scoring on Monday with 14 points each. Samuelson, who got his second start of the season, also led the Grizzlies with eight rebounds and three blocks as his form has returned since missing the first four contests with injury.
"I always felt it was coming. I just wanted to find a way to win and ended up scoring the ball (Monday)," said Samuelson, a grad transfer from Rocky Mountain College. "My teammates set me up for some good shots."
Sac State led 27-20 at halftime. A team known for slowing down the pace and playing strong half-court defense, the Hornets were every bit as advertised as they held the Griz to just 26.5 percent shooting from the field in the opening half.
"Sac State's probably the best defensive team in the league, and year in and year out it's a grind," DeCuire said. "For us, we have to figure out how to win games when the ball's not going in the basket or we're not getting what we want offensively."
Montana came out of the break with a 9-0 run thanks to 3-point makes from Samuelson and Josh Vazquez. But the Hornets responded with a 7-0 run and from there it went back and forth between the two teams.
Timmy Falls found Samuelson for another layup with 1:56 to go to make it 48-46, but James Bridges got his first points of the game with a big 3-pointer with 58 seconds left to put the Hornets up one.
Manuel was tripped and went to the line to give Montana the lead again. The Griz forced a stop, but Falls was unable to make the first of a 1-and-1, and the Hornets got the ball with 14.1 seconds to play. Then, Mauriohooho-Le'afa drove and Kyle Owens attempted to take a charge but was called for the block. Mauriohooho-Le'afa missed the first attempt, but his second tied it at 50-50.
Montana drew up a play from the baseline with 5.2 seconds left and Falls found Manuel. As he was crossing half-court, Bryce Fowler tripped Manuel up and the Billings native gave the Griz the lead and win at the line. Manuel started the game 1 for 8 from the field but found his rhythm late to provide some offense, similar to Saturday's win over Northern Arizona, where he scored all 16 of his points in the second half.
"As a shooter you just got to see one go. That's really what it is," Manuel said. "Coach said just keep firing, one's going to go and then you're going feel it. Just like the last game."
"It was fun," Samuelson added. "Crowd here was amazing. It was loud and to come down to the wire and end like that with us on top, Kendal hitting those clutch free throws, that was a fun game."
Montana (6-7 overall, 2-0 Big Sky Conference) next hits the road on Thursday when the Griz take on Southern Utah. Montana is also at Northern Colorado on Saturday.