By ERIC TABER | Photos by WILLIAM MUNOZ
With all the tension, drama and excitement of an NCAA tourney game, the Montana Grizzlies pulled out a physical 74-72 victory over last year’s Mountain West Champion Boise State Broncos in a packed Dahlberg Arena on Friday night.
Three players scored in double figures for the Griz, with Martin Breunig leading the way with 21, and true freshman Michael Oguine close behind with 17 as UM shot nearly 48-percent from the floor.
The Griz won the battle of the boards as well, pulling down 30 to the Bronco’s 26, putting Montana at 1-0 to open its 2015 account against one of the better teams on this year’s schedule.
After trailing by five (33-38) at the halftime break, the young Griz showed all the calm and poise of a veteran squad down the stretch to finish on top in a tense final two minutes of play.
Fabijan Krslovic hit the floor with just 20 seconds remaining on the clock as nearly 5,500 fans screamed at the top of their lungs. Michael Oguine had just poked the ball free, and while the referees couldn’t have heard a word in the deafening shouts, Krslovic motioned for a timeout that was granted. Montana led Boise State 73-71.
The Grizzlies then inbounded to Oguine, who was fouled, and converted one-of-two at the free throw line to increase the Montana lead to three. Boise State had a chance on the other end, as Nick Duncan received a good look at a three that wouldn’t fall.
The Broncos still weren’t finished, as Anthony Drmic grabbed an offensive board and was fouled going up for the shot. Drmic hit the first and intentionally missed the second with five seconds remaining, but Martin Breunig grabbed the rebound and tossed the ball into the air as the final buzzer sounded.
Entering the game, the possibility for a barnburner was evident. The two sides faced off last season in Boise, where the host Broncos escaped with a 72-67 win in double overtime. Montana had a chance to end the game in regulation with a defensive stop last year and couldn’t get the job done. This year was a different story.
“Our guys had a little extra inspiration going into this game because they felt like they let that one get away last year,” coach DeCuire said. “We had one possession to get a stop in that game and didn’t do it, then tonight we are able to force that turnover.”
Boise State entered the game very much on the national radar, receiving votes to be in a number of preseason top-25 polls. The Grizzlies, in their second season under coach Travis DeCuire, were picked to win the Big Sky and are looking to have a breakout season.
The Broncos started the game hot, as Drmic hit a pair of three’s and scored another bucket to have eight of his team’s first 12 points. A 12-4 lead early on gave Boise State breathing room, which they couldn’t hold on to for long.
After trailing 20-11, Montana went on a 12-0 run, capped off by a pair of free throws from Oguine, to lead by three with just under nine minutes remaining in the half.
Boise State answered with an 8-0 run of its own just minutes later, and would enter the halftime break ahead 38-33.
In the second half, foul trouble started to take its toll on both sides. Breunig picked up his fourth personal foul with about 16 minutes remaining in the game, and spent the next 11 minutes on the bench.
Walter Wright left the game with just under 13 minutes remaining after also picking up four fouls. The whistle also hurt Boise State, as Zach Haney picked up his fourth foul with 14 minutes left and James Webb III fouled out with 3:37 left in the game. The two teams finished with 51 total fouls.
With Breunig and Wright on the bench, a pair of true freshmen, Mike Oguine and Bobby Moorehead, made a huge impact for the Griz. The entire offense flowed through Oguine, who dominated the ball as the game came to a close.
The Grizzlies showed no panic when they fell behind by 11 points about halfway through the second period. The comeback came slowly, and the Griz looked poised with the younger players on the floor.
Moorehead drained a bomb from a couple feet behind the line as the shot clock expired to tie the game up at 67-all with 2:48 remaining. After a Boise State bucket, Brandon Gfeller hit a trey of his own to give the Grizzlies their first lead in the second half at 70-69.
The game entered the final minute tied at 71 before Martin Breunig gave the Griz the lead for good with a turnaround jumper with 37 seconds remaining. The Oguine steal, Krslovic timeout and Breunig rebound iced it, as Montana started their 2015-16 campaign off with a bang.
Mike Oguine received a very-well deserved player of the game honor, as the freshman came in and led the offense in times of tribulation. His final stat line was 17 points and five rebounds in 34 minutes of play.
“We talked before the game and I said one thing about Mike is he is cool as a cucumber,” DeCuire said of his young guard. “He doesn’t get over-hyped, and he might just be one of those guys who’s just not afraid of the big moment.”
Breunig, who finished with 21 points and five rebounds in just 25 minutes of game time, gave the two freshmen props after the game.
“Shout out to Mike Oguine and Bobby Moorehead, they just played an awesome game and helped out big time,” Breunig said. “Not just offensively either, Mike picked up very well on defense.”
The comeback win had the Grizzly faithful in Dahlberg Arena shaking in anticipation for the season to come, but DeCuire wants his guys to rest up over the weekend. They hit the road to take on San Jose State on Monday.
“It’s the start of something special, but we just have to keep working on us,” Breunig said. “We can’t be satisfied, we have to just keep working.”