(Editor's note: University of Montana Media Release)
MISSOULA -- Montana is 6-1 to open Big Sky Conference play following a 67-63 home victory over Idaho on Saturday night. The victory was the 1,000th home win in program history.
Montana's coaching staff spent all week praising Idaho and recognizing that the Vandals were better than their 1-4 conference mark, which is at the bottom of the Big Sky standings. That was evident on Saturday as the Vandals, under interim head coach Zac Claus, continued to fight back every time Montana would throw a strong punch.
Despite never trailing in the second half, Idaho kept within striking distance each step of the way. After Montana took a game-high nine-point lead, 57-48 with 5:34 to play, Idaho cut the score to just two, 61-59 – and had the ball – with less than 1 minute to play.
As it has done several times this month, though, Montana showed its poise down the stretch. The Grizzlies got a big block from freshman Derrick Carter-Hollinger – one of his four stuffs on the night – which led to a big bucket on the other end from senior Jared Samuelson – his career-high 23rd point of night. That gave Montana a four-point lead with 19 seconds to play, but Idaho had one more counterpunch, nailing a three-pointer with 3.4 seconds on the clock, to once again cut the score to two.
After Carter-Hollinger came up big moments earlier with the block, fellow freshman Kyle Owens' turn came next, as he got fouled on the inbound.
Going to the line with the chance to ice the game, Owens swished both shots, giving Montana the 67-63 victory.
Montana's three seniors were all in double figures for scoring, led by Samuelson's 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting, which featured five made three-pointers for the 6-7 forward.
(on grinding out a victory)
"Tonight was a tough one. I think it's an opportunity for us to grow. The last couple games, offense came to us pretty easily, and this team defends us differently than what we've been seeing. We had to grind this one out, and I thought it was healthy for us."
(on Idaho's defense)
"They play a pack-line defense; there's four bodies inside the paint at all times. When Sayeed (Pridgett) and Kendal (Manuel) have the ball, they collapse on them, so we had to do a good job with our second and third options."
(on Samuelson's big night)
"The way they defend the ball screen, they hedge hard. Most teams, the five man doesn't shoot, so they were leaving him open. Guys, Sayeed (Pridgett) and Josh (Vazquez), got him going in the first half. We did a good job of executing the ball-screen coverage."
(on Montana's pressure on defense)
"The 17 turnovers is what won us the game. When teams have a negative assist-to-turnover ratio, most teams aren't going to win. We deflected a lot of balls and disrupted them."
- The win was Montana's 1,000th home win in program history. All-time, the Grizzlies are 1,000-409 (.710) on their home court, including 720-248 (.744) inside Dahlberg Arena.
- Of teams who have been playing in their current home venue for at least 60 years, only Kansas, Duke, Oklahoma State, Vanderbilt and Wichita State have a higher home winning percentage than Montana.
- Montana did not trail in the second half, leading by as many as nine points.
- Montana's final multi-point deficit came at the 16:54 mark of the first half (9-6). The Grizzlies trailed just three more times, and all were by single points late in the first half.
- Montana's largest deficit came at 9-4, but the Grizzlies quickly erased it with a 9-0 run.
- Senior Jared Samuelson scored a career-high 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting. He connected on a career-most five three-pointers.
- Samuelson scored seven of Montana's first nine points, and 13 of the Grizzlies' first 21, helping Montana jump out to a 21-15 advantage.
- Senior Sayeed Pridgett scored 17 points while pulling down six boards and stealing two passes.
- During the second half, Pridgett took over and scored nine consecutive Griz points. It allowed Montana to take a game-high nine-point lead with less than 6 minutes to play.
- Pridgett jumped Jordan Hasquet (2005-09) into 11th place on the school's all-time scoring list. Pridgett now has more than 1,400 career points.
- Freshman Derrick Carter-Hollinger had another strong night, scoring six points on 3-of-5 shooting while leading UM with seven rebounds. Perhaps biggest, though, were his four blocked shots.
- Over the past three games, Carter-Hollinger has blocked 10 shots. In his first 15 games, he blocked seven.
- Montana recorded a season-high-tying 10 steals, with four Grizzlies tallying multiple steals. Kendal Manuel led all players with three swipes, in addition to his 12 points.
- Freshman Josh Vazquez scored four points, but bigger was his all-around game, which included a stat line of six rebounds (career high), four assists and two steals.
- Montana went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line over the final 10 seconds of the game.
- Montana held Idaho without a made field goal over the final 4 minutes of the first half, which allowed the Grizzlies to enter the locker room with a 31-27 lead. After trailing 27-26, the Grizzlies got a three-pointer from Manuel before Pridgett raced coast to coast to beat the buzzer.
- Both teams shot 43.1 percent from the floor.
- Trying to exploit Idaho's poor three-point defense, Montana took more than one-third of its shots from deep. The Grizzlies attempted 20 three-point shots, tied for its highest total in 10 games.
- Montana forced Idaho into 17 turnovers.
- Travis DeCuire, who is the fastest coach in Big Sky Conference history to 50 wins, coached his 100th league game on Saturday.
- Saturday marked the 200th all-time meeting between longtime rivals Montana and Idaho. The Grizzlies have won three in a row in the series.
Montana will now play its next three games on the road, traveling to Idaho State (Thursday), Weber State (Saturday) and Portland State (Jan. 29). The Big Sky Conference witnessed a few surprises on the week, most notably Northern Colorado losing at home to Northern Arizona. Montana now owns a 1.5-game lead on Northern Colorado, Eastern Washington and Southern Utah. The league's seven other teams all have at least four losses.