By ERIC TABER
It was a tale of two halves for the Montana men’s basketball team on Saturday. After a rock solid first half by the Grizzlies, Sacramento State erased a 20-point lead in the second, defeating UM 83-79 in California.
Brandon Gfeller nailed a pair of three-pointers on consecutive possessions to open the second half and put the Grizzlies up by 20 with 19 minutes to play.
But the Hornets then outscored UM 54-36, taking the lead for good on a jump shot from Jiday Ugbaja to make it 76-75 with 1:53 to play, and the home team wouldn’t look back.
The loss is just Montana’s second in the last 10 games, and its first of six conference road games. The Griz are now 13-8 overall, and 8-2 in the league, dropping them down to second place on the Big Sky table behind Weber State. Meanwhile, the Hornets improve to 10-10 on the season and 3-6 in the Big Sky.
“We couldn’t get out of our own way to be honest, said Montana head coach Travis DeCuire. “We gave up 61 percent from the floor in the second half, and you can’t beat good teams that way.”
All told the Griz had three players score in double figures, led by Brandon Gfeller with 21 and Martin Breunig with 20. Redshirt freshman Gavin DeJong also posted 10 points in his best outing as a Grizzly, and Walter Wright, the smallest player on the court, pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds while netting eight points.
Gfeller, one of Montana’s most dangerous weapons with a hot hand, was sizzling from behind the arc, going 6-8 on threes, but not scoring at all in the last six minutes of the game.
DeJong showed how productive he can be in the first half, putting up 10 points while subbing in for Breunig, who ran into foul trouble and was limited to just nine minutes.
Even with Breunig in foul trouble, The Grizzlies stormed out a 43-29 halftime lead. UM’s 43 points was the second-best first half total the Griz have produced this season, and their best first half total in Big Sky Conference play. Heading into the break, the Griz were shooting a lights out 52 percent from the floor.
After Gfeller made it 49-29 with two quick treys, the Grizzlies’ shooting touch slowly fizzled as UM went on a 2:30 scoring drought in the last quarter of the game, and finished the game by making only two of their last nine field goal attempts.
Meanwhile, the Hornets shot 16-26 from the field and 4-9 from three-point land in the second half chipping away at the lead, and outscoring UM 10-0 in fast break points.
Sac. State also outrebounded the Griz 39-34, with the team’s best rebounder (Breunig) only able to collect four boards all night.
The Grizzlies now face the unenviable task of facing the Portland State Vikings on Saturday in Portland to complete an important Big Sky road trip.
The Griz defeated the Vikings 79-66 earlier this year in Missoula. The Vikings are dangerous on their home court however, knocking off Montana State 83-68 on Thursday.