MISSOULA — The Montana men's basketball team picked up Big Sky Conference play again on Thursday evening against Idaho State, and the Grizzlies beat the Bengals 78-54 at Dahlberg Arena.
The win was Montana's 22nd in a row against Idaho State dating back to December 2009 as Griz head coach Travis DeCuire improved to 13-0 against the Bengals as UM's head coach.
Five Griz players scored in double-figures on Thursday, led by Josh Bannan who had 19 points and 10 rebounds. Mack Anderson added 12 points while Robby Beasley and Brandon Whitney each scored 11 and Kyle Owens added 10. Whitney and Cameron Parker led the Grizzlies with four assists each.
Montana raced to a 41-29 lead by halftime thanks to Beasley scoring all of his points in the first half, including a 3 for 4 mark from deep in the first half, and Owens added a 3-pointer right before the buzzer sounded at the break. Anderson then scored all of his points in the second half and Bannan scored 14 of his as Montana pulled away late to improve to 9-5 overall and 2-1 in league play. Meanwhile ISU fell to 2-10 and 0-3 in conference play.
"They did a phenomenal job," DeCuire said. "We made some adjustments offensively and I thought the guys did a good job with our tempo, our pace. We were a lot faster, a lot more aggressive in terms of our spacing and getting into the paint and finding the right shots for us so I thought our offensive execution was the big difference in terms of how we were playing before that."
Montana shot at a 47.4% rate from the field and went 8 for 25 from deep, but 6 for 12 in the first half. Meanwhile Idaho State shot at a 38.3% rate from the field and went 2 for 13 from 3-point range. The Grizzlies also forced 16 turnovers on the Bengals.
"It's important to us," DeCuire said of the number of scoring options UM has. "Sixteen assists and six turnovers, if you're taking care of the ball, and you get a shot every possession you're probably going to get a lot of assists and probably make a lot of shots. And then if you force turnovers you can get in transition which is what we did. The more guys that you have that are a threat for double figures, the more opportunities that you have to be successful offensively when someone has an off night."
Now Montana turns its attention to rival Weber State who UM will host on Saturday at 7 p.m. Weber State improved to 10-4 overall and 3-0 in league play with an 85-75 win over Montana State on Thursday. Weber State was picked to finish second in the coaches' and media preseason polls this year, while UM was picked fourth.
Traditionally a game that has drawn a larger crowd for UM, DeCuire said he's hoping for more fans on Saturday after UM didn't get a chance to have fans last year when the Grizzlies hosted the Wildcats twice. Montana's attendance for Thursday's game against Idaho State was 3,233.
"I'm hoping for a crowd. I haven't seen one yet, been a long time," DeCuire said. "One would assume that after a year off they would be excited about being in here but either way we play for each other, we play for whoever shows up, but it would be nice to have some support Saturday. It's a big game for us, it's an opportunity to establish ourselves in the standings. Our guys always play better when there's fans and most of them came to Montana because there's fans."
Notes: Griz forward Scott Blakney, a senior transfer from Idaho, didn't play for the second straight game and was donning a cast on his right wrist during Thursday's game. The 6-foot-9 Blakney has appeared in 11 games for UM this year and is averaging 6.0 points and 2.6 rebounds in 12.5 minutes per game this year as he's added post depth to Montana's rotation.