March 3, 2014
It wasn't pretty, but it was just enough, as the host University of Montana Grizzlies edged the Montana State Bobcats 53-50 Monday evening in a crucial Big Sky Conference contest in front of a season-high and boisterous Dahlberg Arena crowd of 4,606.
It was the Grizzlies (11-7 Big Sky/16-11 overall) eighth win in a row over the Bobcats (9-9/14-15), in a key game for both teams regarding the upcoming league tournament, which will be hosted by Weber State in Ogden, Utah, March 13-15.
It was also Montana's fourth conference win in a row.
The Grizzlies had a three-point (26-23) lead at intermission, and never did relinquish it, but the 289th Griz-Cat contest went down to the wire.
Montana maintained a slim lead through the first 10 minutes of the final half, but MSU overcame a 13-point (42-29) Griz lead, and when junior guard Michael Dison made a 15-foot jumper the Cats trailed by just three points at 42-39 with 8:27 remaining in the game.
The Bobcats stayed within five points after Dison's score, and cut the Grizzlies lead to 50-48 with 1:59 left to play after senior forward Flavien Davis grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a subsequent lay-up. But, the Grizzlies answered Davis' put-back, as junior forward a 3-point specialist Mike Weisner nailed a trey from the left corner, putting UM ahead 53-48 with 1:27 left.
Once again MSU scored on an offensive rebound and follow-up lay-up, this time by senior center Paul Egwuonwu, trimming Montana's lead to 53-50 with 1:06 left. UM missed its next shot, but Weisner grabbed the offensive rebound with 36 seconds to go.
However, UM turned the ball over with 25 second to go after Weisner's big offensive board, giving MSU a chance to tie the game. The Cats had no timeouts remaining in that point, and the Griz played outstanding perimeter defense in the final seconds, and Dison's desperation 3-pointer was off the mark, and Griz guard Mario Dunn grabbed the miss, and UM eked out the victory.
The Griz overcame shaky shooting in the first half, when they were 10-of-26 for 38.5% and made 3-of-14 treys, and they trailed 20-12 with 4:58 to go on the half. But, they outscored the Cats 14-3 in the final three-and-a-half minutes, and junior guard Keron DeShields' long 3-pointer at the buzzer gave UM a 26-23 edge at the break. Junior guard Jordan Gregory led the way in the first half for UM, scoring 10 points.
DeShields and Gregory led Montana with 13 points apiece, while Weisner added 11, including 8 in the second half. DeShields had a career and game-high 8 rebounds.
UM's leading scorer (he entered the game averaging 19.7 ppg) this season, senior guard/forward Kareem Jamar, was limited to 8 points, and it's just the second time this season he has been held to single digits. He was in foul trouble and limited to 31 minutes of action. Jamar led the Griz with 4 assists.
"When they missed that 3-pointer late and Mike got the rebound, that was huge," said Griz head coach Wayne Tinkle, who improved his eight-year career record at his alma mater to 157-89 overall and 96-38 in Big Sky games. "He's in a really good place right now, and has really helped us off the bench with big plays in several games this season."
"Kareem was frustrated," Tinkle said. "They were going a nice job on him defensively. We tried to get him back on page in the last few minutes of the game, and I thought he was much better mentally, and he got a couple of big baskets for us late, and had some great feeds. He hung in there and showed some maturity those last few minutes."
Davis and Egwuonwu led MSU with 14 points and 6 rebounds apiece, and were the Cats' only players in double figures.
The Griz ended up shooting 42.6% (20-of-47) from the floor in the game, and were just 7-of-24 (29.2%) from 3-point range and 6-of-9 from the line.
MSU was 19-of-39 (48.7%) from the floor, but missed all 7 of its 3-point attempts, and converted 12-of-19 free throws. It was the first in 576 games, the Bobcats didn't hit a three-point field goal. The Cats had a 29-25 edge in rebounds.
Jamar's 4 assists give him 399 in his career, moving him up to fourth in school history, as he passed former teammate Will Cherry (397 assists, 2010-13). Jamar is now ranked 19th in league history in career assists.
Jamar now has 1,628 career points, which moves him up to 16th on the Big Sky's all-time list, as he passed Weber State's Jimmy DeGraffenried (1,624 points, 1991-96).
The Griz, who play three league games in six days this week, are at Sacramento State this Thursday March 6, from at 8:05 p.m. contest. MSU is at Northern Arizona on Thursday.
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