Montana Edges NAU 61-59 To Advance to the Big Sky Title Game

By DAVE GUFFEY

Senior guard Jordan Gregory scored on a lay-up with .4 seconds remaining in the game to give the University of Montana Grizzlies a thrilling 61-59 win over the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks Friday night in a Big Sky Conference Championship semifinal game in front of 5,009 emotionally drained fans in UM’s Dahlberg Arena.

With the victory No.-1 seed Montana will now play No. 2-seed Eastern Washington (25-8) Saturday, March 14, at 7:07 p.m. for the Big Sky tournament title and the automatic NCAA playoff berth that comes with winning the championship. The Eagles defeated No. 3-seed Sacramento State 91-83 in the other semifinal contest today.

The win was also a milestone for first-year head coach Travis DeCuire and his team, as the Griz picked up their 20th victory of the season.

Montana has now won eight straight Big Sky tournament games in Dahlberg Arena, and has been victorious in nine of its last 10 tourney contests. The Griz have now won five consecutive semifinal games and seven of their last eight, dating back to the 2000 season.

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A Matin Breunig Slam Dunk. Photo by ©William Munoz

Just as in Thursday night’s hard-fought 76-73 overtime win over Weber State in a tourney quarterfinal game, the Grizzlies had to hold off a talented NAU (19-14) team that had won 11 of its last 13 contests to advance to their fourth tourney championship game in the past six seasons.

The score was tied five times and there were seven lead changes, and when NAU sophomore guard Kris Yanku converted two crucial free throws with eight second left to play, the Jacks knotted the game up for the final time at 59-59.

NAU called a time out after Yanku’s game-tying charity shots, and Gregory then took the inbounds pass, dribbled the length of the floor, drove down the right side of the free throw lane, and released the basketball, which circled the around the rim briefly, and eventually dropped in for the game-winner.

The Lumberjacks’ last lead was 19-17 with 11:41 to go in the first half on a jumper by junior forward Jordyn Martin. The Griz knotted the game up at 19-all 50 seconds later on a driving lay-up by sophomore guard Mario Dunn. UM maintained a slim lead throughout the rest of the opening half, and led 33-30 at intermission.

 

Montana (20-11) never did relinquish the lead in the second half, but NAU tied the game up twice in the final 20 minutes of play. The last deadlock of the evening was on Yanku’s two clutch free throws with eight ticks left in the game.

The Jacks in-bounded the ball to Yanku after Gregory’s game-winning lay-up with .4 seconds remaining in the game he fired a shot a football-like desperation three-pointer from way behind the half-court line, and the ball hit the top of the backboard, giving the Griz the last-second victory.

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Jordan Gregory was 4 of 4 from the freethrow line. Photo by ©William Munoz

Gregory was also a key for the Grizzlies’ in their overtime win over WSU, as he made two clutch free throws with three seconds to go in regulation to force the overtime, scored a team-high 21 points against NAU, including 16 in the second half.

Griz junior forward Martin Breunig scored 10 points and grabbed 8 rebounds, while sophomore guard Riley Bradshaw tied his career-high with 10 points – all of them coming in the second half. Dunn added 9 points and hauled in a career and game-high 11 rebounds. Senior forward Chris Kemp contributed 6 points and 4 rebounds off the bench for UM.

Yanku scored a game-high 26 points, made 13-of-15 shots from the line, and had 5 steals. Senior guard Quinton Upshur was NAU’s only other double-figure scorer with 17 points.

The Griz were 21-of-48 (43.8%) from the floor, made 7-of-18 (38.9%) treys, and were 12-of-18 (66.7%) from the line. The Jacks were 19-of-55 (34.5%) from the field, 4-of-18 (22.2%) from behind the arc, and converted 17-of-22 (77.3%) charity shots. The Griz edged NAU, the Big Sky leaders in rebounds, 35-32 on the boards.

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JR Camel at the Griz vs Weber game ©williammunoz
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