(Editor's note: University of Montana media release)
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Montana led New Mexico with under 9 minutes to play, but couldn't quite pull off the upset bid, falling to the Lobos, 72-63, on Sunday afternoon.
Playing in front of more than 10,000 fans in one of college basketball's most iconic venues, the Grizzlies showed they weren't going to be intimidated, playing toe to toe with the Lobos of the Mountain West. In fact, Montana made its first two shots and built a 12-8 lead after holding New Mexico without a made field goal for 9 minutes, 25 seconds.
During the drought, New Mexico missed 10 consecutive shots and turned the ball over three times.
"We were in all of the right spots," UM coach Travis DeCuire said. "We're playing hard right now and flying around, and we're paying attention to details on the scout."
Montana's defense allowed the Grizzlies to lead for nearly 8 minutes of the first half, but they couldn't extend their lead further, with Montana scoring just 12 points in the first 12 minutes.
Following nearly 10 minutes without a made basket, New Mexico quickly found its rhythm, hitting six straight shots – including four from three-point range – to open up a seven-point advantage. Montana would work back to a 24-24 tie before entering the locker room down six.
"As well as I thought we were playing defensively, I thought we should have had the lead at halftime," DeCuire said. "With guys on the bench due to fouls, our ball movement wasn't great and we struggled to get shots."
The Grizzlies hung with the Lobos shot for shot in the second half and a few minutes in began chipping away. Freshman Josh Vazquez – who finished with a career-high 16 points – made one of his four three-pointers to tie the game at 40-40. Moments later, Kendal Manuel drilled a three to give Montana a 50-49 lead with under 9 minutes to play.
"That was huge," DeCuire said of Manuel's shot. "That's what this team does; we keep fighting."
Like they did in the first half, the Lobos again responded. This time, New Mexico went on an 11-2 run over the next 3:32 to build an eight-point advantage. Following Manuel's triple, Montana would score just 13 more points, with 10 of them coming from senior Sayeed Pridgett.
Pridgett was again phenomenal, scoring a game-high 25 points and recording his second consecutive double-double with 10 rebounds. Pridgett also led Montana for assists (five) and steals (three).
Montana shot .500 in the second half and overall turned the ball over just six times, but couldn't overcome New Mexico's 35 free-throw attempts (compared to seven for the Griz).
"My guys fought," DeCuire said. "They played hard and they had the right intent. There's some things we can do better down the stretch to win these games, but I think we are competing and getting better."