By ERIC TABER
The Montana Grizzlies moved to 3-0 in Big Sky Conference play (8-6 overall) with a lights out shooting performance and stifling second half defense, leading to a 79-66 win over the Portland State Vikings, who fell to 5-8 overall and 1-1 in Big Sky play.
The Griz shot nearly 57 percent from the floor, led by Walter Wright, who had his best regular season game in a Montana uniform with a game-high 22 points and nine assists, just one dime away from his second double-double of the season.
In total, four Grizzlies shot in double figures with true freshman Michael Oguine close behind Wright on 20 points, Martin Breunig with a double-double on 13 points and 12 rebounds, and Brandon Gfeller shooting a perfect 5-5 from the field for 14 points.
Montana shot nearly as well from behind the arc as it did in front of it with Wright nailing three, Mike Oguine chipping in with a pair, and Gfeller going 4-4 to give the Griz a 55 percent shooting performance from three-point land.
“We shared the ball well with 16 assists,” said Montana head coach Travis DeCuire after the game. “We would have liked to see maybe four fewer turnovers in the game, which probably puts us over 80 points and 20 assists, but we’ll take four guys in double figures and the positive assist to turnover ratio. We’re headed in the right direction.”
The win keeps the Grizzlies undefeated at home this season at 6-0, and keeps its young Big Sky league record unblemished at 3-0. Montana is averaging 84 points per game in league play thus far, with a 12-point positive scoring margin over its opponents.
After a back-and-forth start to the game, the Grizzly defense took control of the Vikings in the second half, holding PSU to just 10 shots and 31 percent from the field after the break.
“We did a good job of adjusting to what they were trying to get, and taking it away,” said Coach DeCuire.
Martin Breunig posted his fifth double-double of the season, but had a relatively quiet night by the senior forward’s standards thanks to double teams from the Portland State defense. The tough D from PSU on Breunig meant others were open though, and Griz made the Vikings pay by finding the available man.
“We would have liked to have gotten him more than 10 shots tonight, but the way they were defending him opened it up for Mike and Walter, and those guys made some good decisions,” said DeCuire. “As a team, to shoot 56 percent, we’ll take it.”
The two sides came out of the gates thinking they were in a three-point competition, as the first five field goals made were all from behind the arc. A pair of treys by Calaen Robinson pushed the Portland State lead to 10-3 early on, before freshman Bobby Moorehead answered with a three of his own.
Walter Wright impressed the crowd, and set the pace for his performance on the night, when he crossed up his defender on the perimeter, cutting to the hole and finishing a smooth reverse lay-up.
The Griz would tie the game back up at 10 before Robinson hit another three, scoring nine points on just three shots. The Vikings then extended their lead to 19-12 on a jumper by Isaiah Pineiro.
Montana’s answer came from Breunig, who snuck up the baseline, received a pass from Brandon Gfeller and lifted-off, getting the crowd of nearly 3,500 on their feet with a big dunk.
Montana closed the half well, building up a double-digit lead after Mario Dunn stole it away in a full-court press, stepping around a defender to lay it in with just 28 seconds remaining in the period.
Montana led 40-32 at the break, and the Griz held a massive 20-6 advantage in the paint at the half.
Portland State cut the lead to five points early in the second half before the reigning Big Sky Player of the Week, Brandon Gfeller hit back-to-back three pointers to extend Montana’s lead to 48-37.
The Grizzlies rallied behind that momentum, going on a 10-0 run capped by a Wright three-pointer to push Montana to its biggest lead of the game at 66-45.
A late run by the Vikings closed Montana’s lead to nine with two and a half minutes remaining, the first time in nearly 15 minutes of play the lead dropped below 10 at 75-66.
Wright took the ball in isolation as time wound down for the Griz, driving left and finishing a reverse to ice the game. Montana would receive a pair of free throws from Oguine before the final buzzer to win 79-66.
The Grizzlies will look to remain undefeated in Dahlberg Arena this season on Saturday when Montana hosts Sacramento State for its fourth league matchup of the year. The Hornets travel to Missoula from Bozeman where Montana State put Sac. State to 0-2 in Big Sky play with a 71-64 win. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.