(Editor's note: University of Montana media release)
MISSOULA -- Over the past three seasons, Montana has lost just three Big Sky home games, but two of them have come to Northern Colorado. The Bears handed Montana a 71-64 loss on Thursday night, severely damaging Montana's chance to win a third consecutive regular-season championship.
Eastern Washington, with its win over Idaho State, locked up a share of the title on Thursday night. Montana would need to beat Southern Utah on Saturday, have Northern Colorado lose to Montana State and have the Eagles lose to Weber State in order to secure the No. 1 seed in next week's Big Sky tournament. The Grizzlies and Bears are now tied for second at 14-5; Montana is guaranteed to finish at least third.
Northern Colorado started strong, jumping out to a 23-16 lead 14 minutes into the contest. At that point, the Bears were shooting 59 percent from the field, compared to just 38 percent for the Grizzlies.
Montana, though, started to find its rhythm and scored seven of the next nine points to cut the deficit to just two, 25-23. After trailing by five at halftime, the Grizzlies made a run early in the second half, scoring nine consecutive points to tie the game on a Derrick Carter-Hollinger 3-pointer and take the lead seconds later on a jumper from Kyle Owens as the shot clock was winding down.
The Grizzlies' 40-38 lead with 13:44 to play was their first of the game.
For every Griz bucket, though, the Bears had an answer.
Bodie Hume knocked down a triple on the other end of the floor to put the Bears back on top, before Sayeed Pridgett drained a mid-range jumper to give Montana its second and final lead of the night, 42-41.
On the other end of the floor, Jonah Radebaugh nailed a 3-pointer as the shot clock was winding down, which sparked a mini Bears run, to push the lead back to seven, 51-44.
Montana had one more push in it, with Pridgett – during the midst of a stretch in which he scored eight consecutive Griz points – cutting the deficit to just three with 8:52 to play.
That would be as close as Montana would get, though, as the Grizzlies went ice cold, missing five consecutive shots and turning the ball over twice during a 5-minute scoreless drought.
The dry spell put the nail in the coffin for Montana, as Northern Colorado made 5-of-6 shots to build a 16-point advantage, 66-50.
After going nearly 5 full minutes without hitting a shot, the Grizzlies scored eight quick points in a span of 61 seconds to cut the deficit to eight with just over a minute to play. Northern Colorado missed four of five free-throw attempts and turned the ball over three times, allowing the Grizzlies to get as close as five, 67-62, with 31.9 seconds to play, but couldn't get closer.
- Montana led on just two occasions, for a total of 59 seconds. During two games against Northern Colorado this season, the Grizzlies have led just three times, for a total of 1:19, and never by more than two points.
- Montana allowed Northern Colorado to shot .558 from the floor and was out-shot for just the second time since Dec. 30.
- Despite being out-shot, the Grizzlies still connected at a .467 clip, but were 1-for-12 from 3-point range (season low for makes and percentage).
- Northern Colorado entered the game ranked 11th nationally for 3-point defense.
- Northern Colorado turns the ball over just 10.2 times per game – the sixth-best average in the nation – but had 14 giveaways on Thursday.
- The Bears turned the ball over eight times in the first half alone, including four offensive fouls that resulted in turnovers.
- Senior Sayeed Pridgett scored 26 points on 12-of-23 shooting, including a stretch in the second half in which he scored eight consecutive Griz points.
- Pridgett was limited to six points and just 12 minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, but played all 20 minutes in the second half and scored 20 points.
- Freshman Derrick Carter-Hollinger was Montana's second-leading scorer with 15 points, in addition to eight rebounds.
- Carter-Hollinger scored seven of Montana's first 13 points to open the second half, including a corner 3-pointer to tie the game at 38-38.
- Senior Jared Samuelson recorded a career-high-tying eight rebounds, to go along with eight points.
- For the third consecutive game, Kendal Manuel did not sub out, playing all 40 minutes.
- Prior to Thursday, Montana hadn't trailed by double digits in a game since Jan. 30 at Portland State.
- Both Pridgett and UNC's Jonah Radebaugh – two of the top players in the Big Sky – were limited in the first half due to foul trouble, with both sitting for the final 8 minutes. The two made the most of extended time in the second half, with Radebaugh finishing with 21 points and Pridgett scoring 26.
- Northern Colorado, which kept its hopes alive of sharing a conference title, has won five consecutive road games dating back to late January.
- Northern Colorado has been Montana's Achilles' heel at times. On the final day of the 2016 regular season, the Grizzlies had an opportunity to lock up a championship, but fell at home to the underdog bears. The Grizzlies also lost last March to Northern Colorado, on a night they could have won a title; Montana ended up winning a week later, however, on the final night of the regular season.
- Montana has lost three consecutive games against Northern Colorado, the first time a Big Sky opponent has beaten Travis DeCuire in three straight meetings.
(on gaining momentum going into halftime)
"We cut into the lead. We won the last 6 minutes of the half and had a little momentum. We didn't execute out of timeouts a couple times, and I think that cost us from getting closer, but I thought we won the time when both Sayeed (Pridgett) and (Jonah) Radebaugh were out."
(on Northern Colorado being ready to play)
"More power to them. They showed up. Jonah Radebaugh showed up, was tough to guard and gave his team confidence."
(on not being able to pull away after taking the lead)
"We had way too many defensive breakdowns. We lose him (Radebaugh) up top on a ball screen, the skip pass across half court that pushed it to 7 broke our back… We had some offensive breakdowns and then went down and gave up a 3, and you can't do that."
(on having energy, despite trailing early)
"I thought we were ready to go. We were there, they just did a good job of taking it."
(on his message to his team)
"You can hang your head or you can respond. I think we owe it to the seniors to perform on Saturday. Anything can happen, but the biggest thing is trying to have a little bit of momentum going into next week."
Montana, which had been in first place in the Big Sky standings since Feb. 6, now has to rely on other teams to help the Grizzlies. In order to clinch a share of the Big Sky regular-season title – which would also give Montana the No. 1 seed at next week's conference tournament – the Grizzlies need to beat Southern Utah, have Montana State beat Northern Colorado and have Weber State beat Eastern Washington on Saturday.
With one game to play in the regular season, the top five seeds – which earn a bye into the quarterfinals – include the three teams fighting for a conference title, in addition to Portland State and Montana State. Northern Arizona will be the No. 6 seed, followed by Weber State, Sacramento State and Southern Utah, which are all tied for seventh.