Griz Win an Emotional Triple Overtime Thriller, 83-81 at UNC

By DAVE GUFFEY

The third time was indeed the charm for the University of Montana Grizzlies, as senior guard Jordan Gregory made to clutch free throws with 2.2 seconds left in the third overtime, and the visiting Griz defeated the Northern Colorado Bears 83-81 in a Big Sky Conference game Saturday evening in UNC’s Bank of Colorado Arena.

It was the Grizzlies’ third overtime game of the season. Earlier this year they lost 72-67 at Boise State and 78-76 at Cal – both of those contests going to extra periods. UM played in it last triple OT game was last season, an 81-78 setback at Portland State.

Montana improved to 10-3 in the Big Sky and is now in second place, and goes to 14-10 overall, and has won nine of its last 11 games. NC is 7-6 in league and 12-12 overall. Eastern Washington and Sacramento State are tied for first place in the conference with 10-2 ledgers.

The Grizzlies kept battling back throughout the extra 15 minutes, and other than Gregory’s big pair of game-winning free throws, another hero for Montana was sophomore guard Brandon Gfeller. Gfeller canned a huge 3-pointer on Montana’s last possession in the second overtime with just .2 seconds left to tie the game at 72-72, and send it into the third OT.

“I asked him to trust his teammates,” head coach Travis DeCuire said about Gfeller on his post-game radio interview on KGVO Radio. “We ran a play for him, we wanted him to get the last shot. He took it, we threw it back out off of Martin’s rebound. I thought when he drove he had Mario open. He’s a big shot maker, he’s a big-time player and guys like that do that. I used to do the same thing. You kind of go black a little bit and try to make a shot. I respect him for that and I love him for that. We wouldn’t be where we are if it weren’t for him having that attitude, but I told him to trust his teammates. Gfeller making that shot is an example.”

Prior to Gfeller’s huge trey UM in the second overtime, Gregory had back-to-back 3-pointer attempts which would have tied the game up, and when he missed his second try forward Martin Breunig punched the rebound in a two-handed, volleyball-style of a pass to Gfeller, who then nailed his shot from behind the arc to force the third OT and give his team yet another chance at the victory.

In the first overtime, which ended up at 64-64, Breunig had the key made shot, scoring on a lay-up on a nice feed from Gfeller with 1:11 to go. Ironically Gfeller had a chance to win the game in that first OT, but his 3-point attempt with three seconds left just missed, and bounced off the front of the rim.

The Grizzlies took a 57-53 lead with 4:05 left in regulation on a dunk by Breunig, but that proved to be their final points in regulation. The Bears cut UM’s lead to 57-55 on a dunk by freshman center Jeremy Verhagen, and then NC senior guard Tevin Svihovec tied the game at 57-all on a jumper with 1:09 remaining to force the first extra period.

Montana had led NC by 12 points on three different occasions in the second half, and the last one was 48-36 with 13:49 left in regulation on a 3-pointer by Gfeller. UM biggest lead was 15 points at 33-18, when Gfeller canned a 3-pointer with 2:02 left to play in the first half. The Griz led 33-24 at intermission.

“We got up 33-18 and they outplayed us for the last 30 minutes to be honest,” DeCuire said. “They were relentless tonight. … that team played hard tonight. They had a really good scouting report. We just fought through it.”

Gfeller scored a team-high 21 points, while Gregory had 20, and Breunig added 12 points and a team-high 9 rebounds. Sophomore guard Marion Dunn and freshman forward Fabijan Krslovic each had 9 points and 4 rebounds, while senior forward Mike Weisner chipped in 8 points and 5 boards.

Gfeller tied his career-high with seven (of 15) 3-pointers. Breunig was 6-of-10 from the field, and has now scored in double figures in 22 games in a row.

Gregory, who is from Pueblo, Colo., struggled a bit from the floor, going 5-of-16, but made key free throws, going 7-of-7 from the line, and also pulled down 5 rebounds; had a game-high 6 assists, and he played in a career-high 52 minutes. It was the 10th game this season Gregory has scored 20 or more points.

BBQ“We talked about getting in the paint and drawing a foul,” DeCuire said about the play that he called for Gregory in the final seconds. “We talked about getting a guy lifted. He put his head down and got between those two defenders and drew contact and forced the official to make a call. He’s going to make them when they matter. He had a tremendous game and I don’t think the stat sheet is going to show what he did for us in the first half. He could have had nine or 10 assists in the first half. We missed some openshots.

Gregory now has 1,075 career points, which moves him up to 20th on the all-time list, as he passes the Zanon brothers (Scott, 1,070 points, 1984-87 and Craig, 1,071 points, 1978-81).

“Our back was against the wall and we got down there and tightened up,” DeCuire said. “We made some adjustments – switching ball screens – that we hadn’t done all year. I thought our guards did a good job down there on the bigs.

“We hadn’t won anything with extended minutes,” DeCuire continued. “Tonight we figured out how to do it. Teams are giving us opportunities to make a run and stay in this thing. We have to take care of our own business. We’ll take it, we’ll take it. That’s one thing we’ve discussed is take the wins how you can get them. By all means necessary, do what you have to do to make things happen. We’re going to need some treatment this week to get ready for this home stretch. These guys are fighting and going to war. We’re in the race. We need a little support when we get home and some energy in that building.”

UNC was led by Svihovec, who scored a game-high 23 points, while sophomore guard Michael Cameron had 17, and senior forward Dominique Lee added 14 points and a game-high 16 rebounds. UNC out-rebounded Montana 51-43.

Next week the Grizzlies host Idaho State on Thursday, Feb. 19, and Weber State on Saturday, Feb. 21, in its their final regular-season home games of the year. Saturday’s game at UM will be “Senior Night” to recognize the Grizzlies’ three seniors, Gregory, Weisner, and Chris Kemp.

The Bears are at Sacramento State and at Portland State next week.

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