By ERIC TABER | Photos by WILLIAM MUNOZ
A confident, cohesive and crisp Montana Grizzlies basketball squad moved to 7-0 at home, and 4-0 in Big Sky Conference play with a high flying 77-58 victory over the visiting Sacramento State Hornets (0-3 Big Sky, 7-7 overall).
Player of the game Jack Lopez had a career night with 21 points, five rebounds and three assists to lead all scorers. Martin Breunig had 16 rebounds to go along with 15 points, and Walter Wright put in 16 points and 12 assists as the two Griz starters both posted double-doubles.
Wright’s career high 12 dimes were just two shy of the school record 14 assists in a single game. It was his third time in last four outings dishing out nine assists or more. As a team, the Griz handed out 22 assists and gave up only eight turnovers.
“We’re sharing the ball,” said Montana head coach Travis DeCuire. “We’re doing a really good job of inviting the double on Martin and playing out of it. Mike and Walter are doing a good job of attacking the paint and finding guys when they get there.”
The Grizzlies (9-6 overall) continue to shoot the ball well, making 30 of 64 shots for a 46.9 percent shooting performance from the field, and outscoring the Hornets 32-26 with points in the paint. The Griz also shot over 43 percent from behind the arc, highlighted by five triples from Lopez.
A smothering defense continues to be the name of the game for the Grizzlies however, as Montana held the Hornets to 17 points below its season average of nearly 75 points per game.
Montana is averaging over 82 points per game in league play, and has held its opponents to just 68 over the course of its four Big Sky Conference games. The Grizzlies’ season average has now climbed to 70.1 PPG.
The Griz outrebounded Sac. State 42-30, highlighted by Breunig’s 16 boards. UM nearly doubled up the Hornets on offensive boards as well, hauling in 13 to SSU’s seven.
Jack Lopez began the best game of his career right out of the gates, hitting a three-pointer to open up the scoring for both teams. It was the second game in a row where Lopez started the scoring with a trey. Brandon Gfeller made a three of his own on the next Grizzly possession to put Montana ahead 6-0 early on.
Montana held small leads throughout the opening half of the first period, but the Hornets hung around, and Justin Strings was able to tie the game up at 20 with a jumper with 7:11 remaining in the half.
The Grizzlies went to freshman Mike Oguine on their next trip down the floor, as he buried a three-point attempt to put Montana ahead for good. Martin Breunig slammed one home a minute later to swing the momentum all the way in favor of the hosts.
Walter Wright finished off the half in style for the Grizzlies, blowing past his defender to score with just five seconds remaining. The basket finished off an 8-2 run to end the half for Montana, who took its largest lead of the game into the halftime break, 37-28.
Montana extended the lead to double-digits early in the second half, and before the first media timeout built it up to 16 on a three by Wright.
The Hornet’s Jeff Wu flashed his offensive skillset, scoring eight consecutive points, but Montana caught fire from behind the arc to keep Sacramento State at bay.
Over a four-minute stretch, all five of Montana’s made field goals came from three-point land. Lopez hit three of them, and Wright added a pair of his own to extend Montana’s lead out to 61-42 with just under 12 minutes to play.
Lopez kept his foot on the gas, breaking free on a back-cut to extend Montana’s lead to 21 points, and Sacramento State wouldn’t be able to get within 20 until the final possession of the game.
The highlight of the night came late for Montana, when the Grizzlies worked the ball around the perimeter and Oguine threw a loose pass that was stolen away by Nick Hornsby.
Hornsby, a 6-foot-7, 230-pound forward drove right toward Oguine on the fast break, searching for a highlight slam. Montana’s 6-2, 175 pound guard rose to the challenge, rising above Hornsby and swatting the shot in the direction of the Hornet bench.
The rejection had every one of the over 3,800 fans in attendance on their feet, as Montana held a 75-51 lead with just two and a half minutes remaining in the game.
Sacramento State would close the game on a 7-0 run, but it wasn’t nearly enough as the Grizzlies hung on for the 77-58 victory.
The Montana Grizzlies return to the road next week, looking to remain perfect in the Big Sky on another of the league’s most difficult road swings. UM travels to face Northern Colorado on Jan. 14, then hops a plane for Grand Forks to face the newly minted North Dakota Fighting Hawks on Saturday, Jan. 16.
BIG SKY NOTE: Weber State’s Joel Bolomboy posted his 15th double-double in 16 games this season in WSU’s 85-68 win over Northern Colorado. His 17 rebounds in that game moved him passed Montana’s Larry Krystkowiak and into third place on the Big Sky career rebounds list.
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