Montana Improves to 10-0 in the Big Sky with 76-74 Win Over WSU

By DAVE GUFFEY, for University of Montana Sports Information

It was an outstanding birthday “gift” received by University of Montana’s head basketball coach Wayne Tinkle on Saturday night (Jan. 26).

The seventh-year mentor celebrated his 47th birthday with a hard-fought, tense 76-74 Big Sky Conference victory by his Grizzly team over the Weber State Wildcats in UM’s Dahlberg Arena.

It wrapped up the first half of the conference season for the Grizzlies, which finished with a perfect 10-0 league record, and they improved to 14-4 overall.  It was the 21st Big Sky win in a row for Montana.

The teams meet again in three weeks on Feb. 14 in Ogden.  WSU is the last team to defeat the Grizzlies (80-64, Jan. 14, 2012) in a regular-season conference contest.

It was a great college basketball game between the Big Sky two best teams, and a great performance by Griz senior point guard Will Cherry.

The outcome between two teams that were ranked in the recent Mid-Major Poll (WSU was 22nd and UM was 23rd) went down to the wire.  There were 12 lead changes and the score was tied 11 times.

The Grizzlies led for a substantial portion of the second half, and it looked like they had the game under control when they went up by eight points at 74-66, on a pair of free throws by Cherry with 41 seconds remaining in the contest.

About 20 seconds after Cherry made his two free throws, Griz sophomore guard Keron DeShields converted one of his two free shots, giving Montana a 75-70 lead with 24 seconds remaining.  But, Wildcat (8-2/13-5) sophomore guard Gelaun Wheelwright scored on a driving lay-up on WSU’s next possession, making the score 75-72 with 18 seconds left to play.

Wheelwright missed his free throw attempt after scoring that lay-up, and Cherry was then fouled, Cherry went to the line with 14 seconds to go, and made the first of his two charity shots – his 15th in a row, but missed the second, giving the Wildcats one final opportunity.  WSU junior guard-forward Davion Berry tried a desperation 3-pointer, from just a couple of feet over the mid-court line, and his shot came up short.

The first half was a back-and-forth affair too, with seven lead changes and six ties.  The Wildcats took a 36-35 halftime lead on two free throws by senior guard Scott Bamforth with 1:18 left until the break.

Cherry scored a season-high 28 points, and was one of four UM players in double figures.  Cherry made 6-of-11 shots and was 15-of-16 from the line.  Griz senior forward Mathias Ward and junior guard-forward Kareem Jamar scored 11 points each, while junior forward Spencer Coleman chipped in 10.  Cherry also had a team-high 6 rebounds, along with 4 steals, and 3 assists in 38 minutes of action.  UM sophomore forward Mike Weisner contributed 6 points and 5 rebounds.

Cherry’s 28 points give him 1,332 for his career — moving him up to eighth on UM’s career list.  He passed center Ken McKenzie, who scored 1,321 points from 1973-75.

Berry and senior forward Frank Otis led the Wildcats with 17 points each, while Bamforth and junior center Kyle Tresnak added 14 points apiece.  Otis had a game-high 7 rebounds.

Both teams shot well from the field and the free throw line, but both struggled from 3-point range.

Montana was 22-of-48 (45.8%) from the floor and converted 30-of-33 free throws for a season-high 90.9%.  At one point the Griz had made 28-of-29 charity shots before missing two in the final 24 seconds.  Montana out-rebounded WSU 31-25.

WSU made 27of-52 field goal tries for 51.9% – the highest shooting percentage for a Griz opponent this season, and the Wildcats were 17-of-21 (81.0%) from the stripe.

The Griz made a season-low (tie) two 3-pointers  (UM made 2-of-8 treys) , and were 1-of-2 from behind the arc in the second half.  The Wildcats made two of their first four three-pointer attempts, but finished the game with 3-of-14 (they were 1-of-8 in the second half) for 21.4%.

Montana begins the second half of its Big Sky schedule on the road next week, playing at Portland State on Thursday, Jan. 31, and at Eastern Washington, Saturday, Feb. 2.  WSU is at North Dakota and at Northern Colorado next week.