By ERIC TABER
The Montana Grizzlies (6-6, 1-0 BSC) made 18 three-point shots to break the UM school record for most threes in a game, en route to a dramatic, come from behind, 90-84 double-overtime victory over the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks (2-10, 0-1 BSC) on New Years Eve in Flagstaff.
The gritty win gives Montana its first road victory of the season, moves the team into .500 on the year, and gives UM an important 1-0 start to Big Sky Conference play.
“There were a couple moments of adversity that we could have just folded up the tent and said, ‘ah it’s a road loss’”, said Montana head coach Travis DeCuire. “We made plays when we needed to make plays just to keep ourselves in it. We gave up a big three when we thought we had the game won and we easily could have packed it up.
“I’ve been a part of teams that came out in overtime and didn’t show up, and that wasn’t this team.”
Junior guard Brandon Gfeller was white hot, draining eight of 14 shots from behind the arc. Jack Lopez (2), Walter Wright (3), Michael Oguine (4) and Bobby Moorehead (1) each contributed to the three-point onslaught for the Griz, giving the team 18 on the day and breaking the old school record of 16 set in 2002 against Portland State.
Senior forward Martin Breunig picked up his fourth double-double of the season, putting in 15 points and 10 rebounds, despite only having five points in the first half and a near constant double team from the NAU defense.
Junior transfer guard Walter Wright had his first double-double as a Grizzly, doing it the hard way with 19 points and 10 assists in 47 minutes of action. True freshman Mike Oguine was also a hot hand for the Griz, just one rebound shy of a double-double of his own with 16 points and nine rebounds.
But the Grizzlies player of the day was almost certainly Brandon Gfeller, who led all scorers with a career-high 24 points from eight three-pointers, just one shy of tying the UM record for most individual threes in a game.
Montana ran out to a 7-0 lead to start the game, highlighted by a thunderous ally-oop dunk from Walter Wright to Martin Breunig. UM then gave up nine points off four turnovers in a three-minute stretch to give up the 7-0 lead, as NAU went on an 11-0 run.
The first half saw both teams struggling to put points on the board and find a rhythm, resulting in a 31-31 tie at the break. Mike Oguine was one of the few Griz to find his shot early putting up 10 of his 16 points in the first half.
Montana started the second half slow as well, going scoreless for the first three minutes after the break. Walter Wright and Bobby Moorehead snapped that scoring drought by hitting threes on consecutive trips down the floor.
The Griz would go cold again though, and with his team down by five and struggling through another scoring drought midway through the period, Brandon Gfeller caught fire and drained six-straight shots from behind the arc to turn the five-point deficit into an eight-point lead with 6:26 to play.
“We were destined to finally make some shots. That was why we were down in the first half, we had open shots, we just couldn’t make ‘em,” added Coach DeCuire.
“Brandon got hot at the right time for us. He kept us in the game, then got us the lead, and then helped us pull away.”
In a game that saw eight lead changes, the Lumberjacks were able to battle back after Gfeller’s hot streak.
Once again the Griz went cold shooting the ball, going on another two-minute scoring drought that allowed the Jacks to close the gap to four points. NAU all-conference guard Kris Yanku hit a deep three with five seconds to play in regulation that erased Montana’s 10 point, second half lead, and tied the game at 68 and sending it to overtime.
NAU jumped out to a 74-70 lead in the first overtime, before Mike Oguine popped a huge three with 1:45 to play in the extra period. UM then took the lead when Mario Dunn scored his first points of the season, tipping-in a missed shot to go up 75-74. The Jacks would answer right back though, with a three from Marcus DeBerry to go up 75-77.
Following a pass that went out of bounds, Montana was awarded the ball under the hoop with just :04 seconds to play. Fabijan Krslovic then took advantage of an NAU mismatch, finding Breunig under the hoop who rolled the ball in to send the game to double overtime.
The Griz kept a cool head in double overtime, when Mike Oguine and Jack Lopez drained a pair of clutch three pointers to put the game out of reach for NAU, and Montana claiming the 90-84 win.
“For us, we’re saying we took their best shot. To do that and win on the road, at elevation, in double overtime and have guys play – you know, you had two guys play over 40 minutes – is huge,” said Coach DeCuire.
“Now, we’ve got to recover, and we’ve got to handle this success. The game that we’re going to play on Saturday is going to be a lot different – different style of play and what not. So for us, it’s growing up. It’s growing pains, and I think you’re going to start seeing the results with guys like Mike and Walter starting to figure out that if we play a certain way, the way we’re asking them to play, that their numbers actually get better rather than get worse.”
The New Years celebration won’t last long for the Griz, as the team hits the road for Cedar City to take on Southern Utah on Jan. 2. Tipoff against the Thunderbirds is set for 7 p.m. and can be seen live at watchbigsky.com.