Grizzlies Edge Thunderbirds 58-56 in Tense Big Sky Contest


The University of Montana Grizzlies had four players score in double figures and narrowly defeated the Southern Utah Thunderbirds 58-56 in a tense Big Sky Conference game Saturday evening in UM’s Dahlberg Arena.

Montana improved to 6-1 in league and 10-8 overall, and has now won its last five games in a row. SUU goes to 5-13/2-5.

The final outcome came down the wire but it did not have to. A game-winning, deep three-point shot at the buzzer by Thunderbird guard A.J. Hess just missed and hit the back iron, as the Grizzlies survived the upset bid. Montana had a chance to put the game out of reach, but made just 2-of-7 free throw attempts in the final 41 seconds which allowed SUU to stay within striking range.

Travis Decuire UM head coach

UM Head Coach Travis DeCuire. Photo by ©William Munoz

With 18 seconds to go and leading 57-53, UM sophomore guard Mario Dunn missed two free throws, and then on its next possession SUU trimmed the Grizzlies’ lead to only a point at 57-56 with 10 seconds left on a three-pointer by freshman guard Austin Waddoups.

The Griz then could have gone to a three point advantage with 8 seconds to go, but senior guard Jordan Gregory made just 1-of-2 charity shots, giving UM a two point, 58-56 lead. After Dunn blocked a driving lay-up by junior guard Travon Langston, but SUU retained possession of the ball to set up Hess’ potential game-winner.

Trailing 23-19 at halftime, the Grizzlies out-scored the T-Birds 14-2 in the first six minutes of the second stanza, and took an eight-point, 33-25 lead – their biggest of the night, with 14:07 remaining. The Griz never did relinquish the lead after that, although the T-Birds came within a point twice (50-49, with 4:53 to go) and 57-56.

Junior forward Martin Breunig and Gregory each scored a game-high 15 points, while Dunn added 14, and sophomore guard Riley Bradshaw had a career-high 10 points. Dunn led UM with 7 rebounds, while Breunig hauled down 6. Breunig was in foul trouble most of the game and fouled out with 2:04 left to play, and logged just 23 minutes.

“We need to do a better job of finding guys like Riley Bradshaw and Brandon Gfeller (UM’s sophomore starting guard who did not score),” said Griz head coach Travis DeCuire. “For Brandon to just get two shots tonight, that was our fault. That wasn’t what they did defensively. There were times when he was open and we just didn’t find him. I think we need to be a little more patient offensively and grind some possessions out and find the right guys in the right situations. For us its always about who’s going to be our third or fourth scorer and I just don’t think Brandon had enough opportunities to be that guy tonight.

BBQ“It’s us,” DeCuire continued. “You play more than half of it without your two bigs. You can’t run what you normally run offensively because we’re playing a small lineup. We were basically out there running plays that we haven’t even worked on in the last month because we haven’t played that way.

“I think we have to get better offensively,” DeCuire said. “We always talk about defense, and we do need to continue to grow in that regard, but our next four games are against teams that have been scoring in the 80s in conference and we’re going to have to put some points on the board.”

Sophomore guard Race Parsons led SUU with 13 points, while junior forward Casey Oliverson chipped in 10, and Langston had a game-leading 8 rebounds.
Montana is on the road for a pair of Big Sky games at Portland State on Thursday, Jan. 29, and at Sacramento State on Saturday, Jan. 31. Just like UM’s two recent home games against NAU and SUU, next week’s games are the only regular-season match-ups for the Griz against the Vikings and Hornets.

The T-Birds host NAU next Saturday.