By ERIC TABER
The Montana men’s basketball team went on a 10-0 run during the final three minutes of UM’s 65-61 win over North Dakota in Grand Forks, to keep the Grizzlies at a perfect 6-0 in Big Sky Conference play.
Martin Breunig posted his seventh double-double of the season, leading all scorers with 27 points. Five of those 27 were the last points scored in the contest, and proved to be the game winners for UM.
The Grizzlies move to 11-6 overall, 6-0 in the Big Sky, and extend a seven-game winning streak. Montana also picks up its second road sweep of the conference season, claiming wins over Northern Colorado and UND (8-9, 3-3 BSC).
Montana once again suffered a bout of cold shooting, going 25-56 from the field, and just 5-20 from behind the three-point line. But once again the Grizzly defense was the difference, as Montana outrebounded North Dakota 35-28, led by Breunig, who pulled down 12 boards to go with his 27 points.
“That’s an example of a team taking advantage of being in an adverse situation, not giving up on each other,” said Montana head coach Travis DeCuire after the game.
“We fought. And that’s all you can ask for is that our guys fought with heart.”
When not getting shots to fall from range, the Grizzlies rallied behind the play of Breunig, the Big Sky preseason all-conference forward who has scored a double-double in four of six Big Sky contests so far this season, and found other ways to get the job done.
“He’s a tough cover. You’re going to have to double him,” said Coach DeCuire. “A lot of teams right now are just kind of daring us to shoot threes, and we’ve got to find a way to get the W when we’re not making shots.”
True freshman Michael Oguine put on another performance well beyond his years as Montana’s second leading scorer of the game with 14 points, six rebounds and a pair of steals.
“He comes at you,” said Coach DeCuire of Oguine. “He’s really good at finding angles and avoiding contact on the drive, so he’s been hard to take a charge on. He did a good job of crashing the glass for us too.”
Only two Grizzlies (Breunig and Oguine) scored in double figures, but Walter Wright and Jack Lopez were knocking on the door with nine points each. Lopez scored all nine of his points from behind the arc, seeming to drain a trey at the precise time the Grizzlies needed a boost.
In a game that saw the lead change nine times, the first half opened in a defensive battle for both teams, with UND holding on to a 10-7 lead after nine minutes of play. The Griz were just 3-12 shooting in that time.
Martin Breunig gave Montana its first lead of the game around the 11-minute mark, hitting a jumper to go up 12-10 after Jack Lopez hit the first of his three-pointers on the previous possession.
That combination of plays sparked an 11-2 run for the Griz, before UND turned around and went on an 11-4 run of its own.
The remainder of the first half would be neck and neck, with Breunig giving the Griz a 30-26 advantage at the break with four points in the last minute from an authoritative dunk and a smooth layup.
The Fighting Hawks would fight back in the second half though, going on a 17-4 run that buried Montana 49-42 with 12 minutes to play. The run placed the momentum squarely on the UND side of the court, and the North Dakota faithful were hoping for a second-straight win over a team from Montana.
Not long after, Jack Lopez gave the Griz a shot in the arm, hitting his second three-pointer of the night to close the deficit to a 49-47 UND lead with 7:46 to play.
The Griz hung around but remained down on the scoreboard for the next four minutes until Lopez kick started the Grizzlies’ game-winning 10-0 run with his third clutch three-pointer of the evening with 3:08 to play, and Montana would go on to claim the 65-61 win.
With a pair of road sweeps on two of the Big Sky’s most challenging road trips under its belt, the Griz return home next week for what could shake out to be two of the most important league games of the regular season as Idaho and Eastern Washington come calling to Missoula.
Idaho and EWU represent two of the top four teams in the current Big Sky standings, with the Vandals sitting at 3-1, and the Eagles close behind at 3-2 in league play, as of press time on Saturday afternoon.
Tickets to see the Griz take on two of its oldest rivals are available at the Adams Center Box Office or at GrizTix.com.