Griz Remain in Big Sky Title Hunt with 77-76 Win at EWU

By DAVE GUFFEY

The University of Montana Grizzlies had four of five starters score in double figures and kept their Big Sky Conference regular-season title hopes alive with a dramatic 77-76 win over the host Eastern Washington Eagles in a crucial league contest Saturday afternoon at EWU’s Reese Court.

The Griz boosted their conference record up to 13-4 (17-11 overall), while the Eagles are now 12-4 (21-8). Sacramento State, which plays at Portland State tonight, is currently in first place with a 12-3 ledger in the Big Sky.

Montana has now defeated EWU in 21 of the past 26 meetings. The Griz have won six of their last eight games, and 11 of their last 15.

Montana’s balanced scoring attack was led by forward Martin Breunig with a team-high 24 points. Fellow starters Mario Dunn, Brandon Gfeller, and Jordan Gregory scored 11 points each, while starting forward Fabijan Krslovic chipped in 8 points and tied his career-high with a team-best 9 rebounds.

Martin Breunig (12) posts up against EWU's Venky Jois (Photo by Torrey Vail)

Martin Breunig (12) posts up against EWU’s Venky Jois (Photo by TorreyVail)

There were 14 different lead changes and seven ties in the entertaining, see-saw affair, played in front of a mostly partisan Reese Court crowd of 4,621 – the fourth largest in EWU history.

The seventh and final tie was 66-66, when Breunig scored on a lay-up with 6:55 left to play. The Eagles regained the lead for the last time after that final deadlock when junior guard Tyler Harvey was fouled on a three-point shot, and he then made all three free of attempts, giving the Eagles a 69-66 with 6:33 remaining.

After Harvey’s three charity shots had given EWU that three-point lead, UM’s Krslovic scored on a lay-up and then Gfeller nailed a trey and followed his three-pointer with a lay-up, which gave the Grizzlies a 73-69 lead with 4:34 to go, and Montana did not trail after that.

Despite the fact that Montana did not give up its lead in the final four-and-a-half minutes, the Eagles battled back, and Tyler sliced the Grizzlies’ advantage to just one point at 77-76, as the lefty scored on a driving lay-up with 1:54 remaining to play. However, Harvey’s crucial lay-up proved to be the final points of the game scored by either team.

The Griz dodged several bullets in the final minute of action, as the Eagles missed our field goal attempts, two of which were lay-ups, as Montana held them off for the win.

One of the key factors in the final half-minute of the game was that Montana had never got in the bonus from the free throw line in the second half, so when EWU was forced to foul late in the contest the Griz basically just had to get the ball in-bounds a few times to preserve the win.

Jack Lopez (31) on defense against EWU's Drew Brandon  (22)   (Photo by Torrey Vail)

Jack Lopez (31) on defense against EWU’s Drew Brandon (22) (Photo by TorreyVail)

Breunig made 9-of-11 shots from the floor and 6-of-6 from the line, and he dished out a career and game-high (tie) 6 assists. It was his seventh 20-point game of the season.

Dunn added 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 blocks, while Gregory had 6 boards and 3 assists. Senior forward Mike Weisner contributed 6 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists in 25 minutes of action off the bench. Gregory remains 16th on UM’s all-time scoring list with 1,153 career points.

Harvey, who missed the last game between the two teams in Missoula, scored a game-high 27 points, while EWU senior guard Brandon Drew tallied 15 points and 9 rebounds, and junior forward Venky Jois had 10 points and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.

The Griz out-rebounded the Eagles 35-31, and had 20 assists and just 8 turnovers. Montana helped itself from the line, going a perfect 12-of-12, while EWU was 12-of-20 (60.0%) from the stripe. The Griz led 42-39 at halftime.

Next up for the Grizzlies is the annual “Brawl of the Wild” game, as they conclude their regular-season by playing Montana State Bobcats for the 291st time on the hardwood next Saturday at Bozeman, with tip-off slated for 7:05 p.m.

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