Gregory Scores 31 Points to Lead Griz to a 64-57 Victory Over NAU

By DAVE GUFFEY

Senior guard Jordan Gregory scored a career-high 31 points to lead the University of Montana Grizzlies to a hard-fought 64-57 Big Sky Conference victory over the visiting Northern Arizona Lumberjacks Thursday evening on “Retro Night” in UM’s Dahlberg Arena.

Montana, which wore copper-and-gold colored throwback uniforms in the game, had to overcome an 11-point first-half deficit, and outscored NAU 40-26 in the second half.  The Griz improved to 5-1 in league and 9-8 overall, while NAU goes to 8-11/3-3.

The Grizzlies jumped to an 11-point lead (59-48) of their own in the second half on a jumper by freshman forward Fabijan Krslovic with just 1:46 left to play, and it appeared as though Montana was on its way to its fourth consecutive victory and sixth win in its last seven contests.

Guard Jordan Gregory (Photo by Todd Goodrich UM)

Guard Jordan Gregory (Photo by Todd GoodrichUM)

But, the Lumberjacks, who were picked to finish second and third in the Big Sky’s preseason media and coaches’ polls, battled back.  In the closing minute of play, NAU guard Quinton Upshur nailed a deep three-point shot and the Jacks trailed by just three points at 60-57 with 35 seconds remaining.

The Grizzlies fended off the Lumberjacks surge, though, as sophomore guard Brandon Gfeller and Gregory made 4-of-4 free throw attempts for the final margin.

NAU led for most of the opening half, and took a 29-18 lead on a lay-up by junior forward Jordyn Martin with 1:54 left until intermission.  The Griz out-scored the Jacks 6-2 in the final minute-and-a-half thanks to a pair of treys by Gregory, and NAU led 31-24 at the break.

“I put a big question mark on the board before the game, about whether we were for real or not and whether we could respond when it mattered most against a better team than what we’ve played,” said Griz head coach Travis DeCuire. “That question mark was still on the board at halftime, so I was a little emotional at halftime and got these guys fired up. Then I was emotional here on the sidelines in the second half and the guys responded to that, they played with more intensity.

“Our offense actually affected our defense for a short stretch in the first half and that’s how they got their lead,” DeCuire said. “Once we re-established ourselves out of the last timeout, we were good the rest of the game and probably held them in the 20’s from that point on. It’s what going to save us if we continue to react and understand what (our opponents) are trying to accomplish and take it away from them.”

The Jacks upped their lead to nine points at 33-24 on another lay-up by Martin early (18:35)  in the second half, but the Grizzlies out-scored them 10-0 after that, and when Gregory scored on a driving lay-up he gave his squad a 34-33 edge and Montana led the rest of the way.

Gregory, who scored 21 points in the second half, went over the 30-point mark when he made two clutch free throws with 25 second left to play, which were the final points of the game.  He was 9-of-14 from the field and, 7-of-10 from behind the arc, and 6-of-8 from the line.  His seven made treys was a career-high.

“He stepped up when we needed him and he’s done that all year,” said DeCuire about the play of Gregory. “Everybody has some ups and downs, some good games and bad games, but he performed when we needed him most. He made big shots at the end of the first half and comes back and does the same thing in the second half. One thing about him is he’s a gamer. He’s a guy who steps up in big moments.

“The three where he almost fell into my lap,” was DeCuire’s response when asked which one of Gregory’s makes he thought was the biggest. “We took the one-point lead (34-33) and turned them over, then we come down and he hits another one. I think that one broke their back a little bit because they couldn’t get the shots they wanted at the other end.”

Griz junior forward Martin Breunig was UM’s other double-figure scorer with 16 points, while Gfeller added 7 points.  Krslovic led UM with 7 rebounds, followed by Breunig (6), and sophomore point guard Mario Dunn (5).

“They kept fresh legs on him and they went at him on the offensive end,” said DeCuire about NAU’s game-plan for Breunig. “They got him involved in ball screens, they went at him on penetration, they put him in help situations; so they made him work. When we’re going to him on offense, there’s no where to rest. We probably should rotate him a little more, it’s just hard when he scores the ball the way he does. So many teams have to key on him that it allows other guys to be productive offensively for us.”

Upshur, a 6-5 senior, led NAU with 20 points,, while Martin added 11 points and hauled down a game-high 8 rebounds.

The Grizzlies struggled shooting-wise in the opening half, but in the second half they went 12-of-24 (50%) from the floor, canned 5-of-7 (71.4%) three-pointers, and made 11-of-12 (91.7) free throws.  UM ended up shooting season-high 75% (14-of-16) from the line.  In the meantime, in the final half NAU made 8-of-28 (28.6%) shots, 3-of-13 (30.0%) treys, and was 7-of-11 (72.2%) from the stripe.

Montana hosts Southern Utah on Saturday, Jan. 24, at 7:05 p.m. in the only regular-season meeting between the teams.  The Thunderbirds lost 79-65 at MSU Thursday night.  NAU is at MSU next Saturday.

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