By ERIC TABER
The Montana men’s basketball team missed out on a chance to make history, and potentially missed out on a first-round Big Sky tournament bye, falling to a hot-shooting Montana State Bobcat team 78-69 in Bozeman on Saturday.
After pulling ahead early for a 32-31 halftime lead, the Grizzlies (14-15, 9-7 BSC) fell victim to the lights-out shooting of Tyler Hall and the Bobcats (15-14, 10-6 BSC) in the in the second half.
Montana State now takes a 148-147 lead in the all-time series against the Cats after the Griz tied overall series at 147-each for the first time earlier this season.
Hall scored 24 of his game-high 37 points and went 4-for-4 behind the arc in the second half to lead a MSU team that shot nearly 54 percent from the field after the break, snapping Montana’s 13-game win streak over the Cats.
“They came out with a vengeance,” said Montana head coach Travis DeCuire after his first loss to the cross-state rival. “The emotion they had at the start of the second half and the emotion they had at the end of the game, that tells the story. It tells you how much it mattered to them, and I don’t know that we matched their intensity and their desire.”
Montana entered the game winners of four of its last five games, having outrebounded its opponent in each of those five games. That streak came to an end tonight, though, as MSU beat the Griz 38-30 off the glass.
“If you look at it, it’s because we shoot 37 percent,” added DeCuire. “With them shooting 54 percent in the second half, there were no rebounds for us to have.”
UM also trailed MSU in points in the paint, with the Cats outscoring the Griz 24-22, a drastic difference from the first half, where the Griz went to the lockers leading 16-10 in high-percentage buckets.
Montana’s second half shooting woes were only compounded by Hall’s historic performance, who’s total of 37 points is the third-most ever scored by a Bobcat against UM. His 675 points this season set a new single-season record for MSU as well.
“Tyler Hall made tough shots, and at the end of the day, when the lights come on, the cream rises to the top. He was phenomenal,” said DeCuire.
“If we shoot 46 percent like we did in the first half, we overcome those 37 points from him because we do a good job on everyone else. But our biggest issue was we shot in the 30s in the second half, and they beat us to some loose balls, and that’s the difference.”
Montana State opened the scoring in the first half with Hall doing what he does best, hitting a three from the top of the key to put the Cats out to a 3-0 lead on the first possession.
But it wouldn’t last long as the Griz went on a well-orchestrated 10-1 run thanks to a pair of jumpers from Rorie and a banked-in 18-footer from Bobby Moorhead, who made his first start since November, to go up 10-4.
The Cats then tied the game at 12 when Quinton Everett hit a jumper and picked up the foul for the three-point play, followed by a floating jumper from Harald Frey.
But the Griz went on another run with four-straight points from Ahmaad Rorie, who scored in transition off an Oguine steal with an easy dunk. Oguine then added three more for the Griz, hitting a jumper and adding a free throw to put the Griz out to a 19-12 lead with 12 minutes to play in the half.
For the remainder of the period, the Griz and Cats would go virtually shot for shot, with the Hall and the Cats chipping away at the lead to make it a one-point ballgame at the halftime break at 32-31.
Montana led for over 18 minutes of the opening stanza, but with a highly partisan Bozeman crowd behind them, UM couldn’t put the game out of reach, as Rorie led the Griz with 12 of his team-best 19 points at the break.
Montana State seized possession of the momentum in the first three minutes of the second half, however, when Hall drained a fade-away three – his 100th triple of the year – as the clock hit zero to get the crowd on its feet and put MSU on a 7-0 run.
Bobby Moorehead then gave the Griz the reply they needed, hitting a three from the elbow. But MSU would answer back with a jumper from Zach Green to put the Cats on a 10-3 run into the first media timeout.
Rorie and Walter Wright then added jumpers for the Griz, but a three from Joe Mvuezolo kept the Cats in the lead 44-39 into the next media timeout.
Hall then showed he wasn’t going to be stopped, adding to the MSU lead with another fade away three, bringing the sold-out Worthington Arena to its feet with a 49-39 lead.
Montana, meanwhile, couldn’t get a shot to fall, going on a three-minute drought from the field, hitting only two of eight-straight shots during the stretch.
Moorehead got UM gong again, hitting his second three of the night to make it a six-point game with 11 minutes to play, but as a whole, the Griz were struggling from the three-point line, with Moorehead’s pair of threes being the only two UM had made at the point off 13 attempts.
The Bobcat’s momentum came to a hilt when Zach Green stole a pass from Moorehead and took it coast-to-coast for a dunk that put MSU back up 54-43 with ten minutes to go.
The Griz continued to chip away at the 11 point MSU lead, and cut it to six multiple times over the next five minutes, but Montana State had an answer every time. Just when Montana went on an 8-0 run and momentum was starting to peel away, Harald Frey drained a big three to make it a nine-point game again with six minutes to play.
Brandon Gfeller came off the bench late in the second half and did what he does best, hitting a pair of three-pointers, the second of which closed MSUs lead to 67-59, but it was too little, too late as MSU controlled the free throw line to avoid a Montana comeback.
With Idaho beating Weber State on Saturday, Montana falls to No. 6 in the Big Sky standings, and, for the time being, will miss on a first-round tournament bye with an important trip to Ogden on deck for both the Griz and the Cats. North Dakota and Eastern Washington are the only two teams to clinch first round byes to date.
Montana finishes the month of February at 4-2 and takes on perennial rival Weber State on March 2 in Ogden.