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Montana men roll at Idaho, sew up No. 4 seed for Big Sky Conference tourney

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Posted at 11:09 PM, Feb 27, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-28 01:09:22-05

(Editor's note: Montana athletics release.)

MOSCOW, Idaho — Montana remained hot on the road Monday night with a 68-53 win over Idaho in Moscow. The Griz started slow, but closed the first half on a 7-0 run and then dominated the second, coming to life with 42 points offensively. It is the seventh win in the last eight games for Montana.

The duo of Josh Bannan and Aanen Moody had big nights yet again, but the stellar play of Brandon Whitney was the story of the game as he led Montana with 20 points. Montana also got another big night from Josh Vazquez off the bench, scoring 14 points for his third straight game in double figures.

The Grizzlies (16-13, 10-7 Big Sky) picked up the first double-digit win since Jan. 14 against Idaho State and swept the season series against the Vandals. It secured the 15th consecutive winning season for Montana, one of just 15 teams in the country with such a streak.

The win concludes the regular season for Montana. The postponed game against Portland State would not change any matchups at the conference tournament regardless of outcome, so it will be canceled. Montana's next game will be on Monday, March 6 at the Big Sky tournament. The Griz are the No. 4 seed and will play Idaho State.

This is the eighth time in nine seasons under Travis DeCuire that the Grizzlies have won at least 10 Big Sky games.

The quartet of Bannan, Moody, Whitney and Vazquez combined for 66 of 68 Montana points. It was the defensive effort from the entire team that led to the victory as Idaho was held to just 38 percent from the floor and made only two three-pointers. The 53 points are the fewest allowed by Montana in a Big Sky game this season, and it's the second biggest win in league play.

The performance was completely dominant, as Montana outrebounded the Vandals and finished with seven more assists. They made eight more shots, including six additional threes for an 18-point advantage from deep.

It was a slow start out of the gates for Montana, however, and DeCuire went with a lineup of reserves early. The Grizzlies trailed 11-3 early, and within three minutes Montana had four players off the bench and into the game. Vazquez hit a three that cut into the Vandal lead, but it was the defensive play of Laolu Oke that may have sparked the Grizzly run.

Oke cut across the paint for a huge rejection. The Grizzlies came up with the rebound and Moody knocked down a transition three that cut the lead to 15-14. It intensified the game, and increased the energy for Montana as the starters re-entered.

The game stayed close, and Isaac Jones gave the Vandals a 23-19 lead with just under three minutes to play. Then the Montana takeover began. Vazquez hit a triple after an offensive rebound by Bannan to cut the lead to one. Whitney then drove and scored to give Montana its first lead since 3-2. Bannan scored in the final seconds of the half, capping a 7-0 run that gave UM the 26-23 halftime lead.

Bannan continued the run on the first possession of the second, finishing through contact to extend the Grizzly lead to 10 points. He had a stellar run to start the second half, making five out of six shots. Montana had a 19-4 extended run going back to the first half to take a 38-27 lead.

The Vandals fought back, scoring seven straight to cut the lead down to four points. Moody got into the lane multiple times and Vazquez hit another triple to extend it back out to nine points. Vazquez finished 4-of-5 from three. It was the third straight game with at least three makes from the arc.

Whitney then extended it back into double-figures. It would remain there for most of the home stretch, and it was the offensive play of Whitney that helped seal it. He went 5-of-6 in the second half with 11 points to close it out.

The Grizzlies ended the game on a 6-0 run to produce the 68-53 final score.

DeCuire has a different player take a pen following every win to write down the win total of Montana for the season. It went to three different players tonight, including Dischon Thomas. Thomas was held scoreless, but played a crucial role on the defensive end in limiting Isaac Jones to just 4-of-13 shooting.

Bannan had his seventh double-double of the season in the win, scoring 17 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. But he made perhaps his biggest impact with his four assists.

It opened up the entire floor. The Grizzlies score 42 points in the second, shooting 54.8 percent from the floor. Moody had 15 points and also pulled down five rebounds.

Montana have had a significant turnaround in the second half of the Big Sky season. At the midway point, Montana were 3-6 with some tough losses in excruciatingly close games. In the second half of the season, the Griz are now 7-1.

The win on Monday night also bucked a trend of close games. They had played in seven straight games decided by fewer than 10 points. It was important for the Grizzlies to get that experience winning in tight situations, but the big win against Idaho was a welcomed experience. Particularly in a potential let-down game with Montana already knowing where it stood in the conference.

The Grizzlies didn't let up, pursuing every loose ball to the final whistle as they grew the lead. It led to DeCuire being able to clear his bench, giving John Solomon his fifth appearance and Trey Lawrence his season debut.

Montana concludes the regular season at 16-13. It is the most games above .500 that he Grizzlies have been all season as they head to Boise as one of the hottest teams in the league. Idaho State awaits in the 4/5 matchup at 5:30 p.m. on Monday.