Griz Celebrate Seniors, Win Third Straight


The game between Montana and Portland State may not have been the prettiest on Saturday night in Dahlberg Arena, but the second-largest crowd of the year was treated to a fantastic finish as the Grizzlies had some clutch threes down the stretch to pull away for an 82-73 win.

Montana (19-9, 10-5 Big Sky) have now won three straight games and have their most wins in a season since winning 26 games and making the NCAA Tournament in 2018-19.

The game had little flow to it on Saturday with 48 total fouls and 66 free throws combined between the two teams. The second half alone had 33 fouls and 47 free throws between the two teams as the physicality both ways drew the whistle.

The Grizzlies found the offense when they needed it down the straight from Aanen Moody. Montana had made just one field goal in a 14-minute stretch in the second half until he hit fadeaway threes in front of the home bench to break up a tie game and then put Montana up multiple possessions in the final 90 seconds.

Montana made just eight field goals in the second half, but Moody’s 300th and 301st career threes provided the difference in a Senior Night win that looked like it may slip away.

“The question on us has been, can we play through adversity,” head coach Travis DeCuire said. “It couldn’t have been any worse than it was for that four or five minute stretch in the second half. Guys found a way to hang in there. I thought we got stops when we needed to and we got rebounds when we needed to. We hung in there and never really gave up the lead and then Aanen Moody does what Aanen Moody does.”

The entire starting five for Montana was honored prior to the game. Moody, Laolu OkeDischon ThomasJosh Vazquez, and Brandon Whitney have started together for most of the season and did so again in their second-to-last home game.

Moody closed the win out, but it was Thomas who got Montana going early on in the first half. He ended the night with 20 points and eight rebounds. Thomas had 13 points and six boards at the break as Montana took the early lead and never relinquished it.

The key to Thomas’ success? His activity on the defensive end, according to his coach.

“He was having success on defense,” DeCuire said. “I honestly believe when Dischon is locked in on the defensive side of the ball, contesting shots, rebounding the ball, and not necessarily having adversity on that side then he flows on offense. We got in transition because we were getting stops and he was getting mismatches. The guys did a good job of finding him, and he attacked.”

For the second straight game, Montana’s defense led it to victory. The Grizzlies held Sacramento State to just 36.2 percent shooting on Thursday night. On Saturday, the limited the Vikings to just 35.7 percent from the floor.

Portland State made just two of their first 10 shots as Montana built an early 16-9 lead after a Thomas three-pointer. There were plenty of runs for both sides throughout the game, and the Vikings got hot, hitting four straight shots, to cut the lead to 21-19.

But just as they heated up, Montana found a response. The Grizzlies made six consecutive shots as part of a 10-2 run to open up a 31-20 lead. Freshman Chase Henderson, who has seen his role increase in recent week, had two of the baskets.

Henderson ended the night with five points, two rebounds and an assist in 14 minutes of action.

The Vikings, who played full-court pressure for much of the night, wouldn’t go away. They hit a pair of threes late in the half to enter the halftime break within single digits at 43-35.

In the first meeting between the teams, Montana was held to just 46 points, the lowest total by a DeCuire coached team in a Big Sky game. They turned it around in Missoula, nearly matching that output in a first half that saw them make nearly half of their field goal attempts and turn the ball over just three times against the high-pressure defense.

Montana hit three early shots in the second half to move ahead 50-41, but following Dischon Thomas’ three with 17:53 left in the game they went over 11 minutes without a field goal. They scored 13 straight points at the free throw line during the stretch, but the Vikings were able to cause some havoc and go on a couple of runs.

They scored 11 straight points to cut the lead down to 54-52 with just over 10 minutes to play. The Grizzlies were able to steadily increase the lead, but Portland State had another 10-2 stretch that tied the game up at 68-all.

“Normally, when you’re up double figures and then, really they made two runs, normally you’d burn a timeout and talk about it,” DeCuire said. “The problem is when a team is pressing every dead ball and every stoppage, you need the timeout for when you can’t get it in.”

Montana needed to find a way to get into an offensive rhythym. The teams traded free throws to get into another deadlock at 70-70. Moody had been just 1-of-7 from three-point range in the game leading up to that point, sitting excruciatingly at 299 career threes.

Then, late in the shot clock, he hit the shot of the game, leaning to his right for career three number 300. Portland State made a free throw on the other end, but Moody responded to that with another triple from nearly the same spot on the floor to make things a bit more comfortable for the hosts.

“He can get his shot off. If he can get his shoulders square, he’s got a chance to make it,” DeCuire said. “He just did a really good job, even though he was off-balanced, squaring his shoulders. To me, I feel like when it’s suspenseful and you don’t really have time to think, you just have to shoot it. Late shot clock, meaningful moments, he tends to shoot better than when just standing wide open.”

The crowd of nearly 4,000 erupted on the back-to-back makes, and provided a lot of noise through much of the second half. They played a key role down the stretch as Portland State missed their final four field goals, allowing Montana to extend its winning streak.

“We pushed a button and turned into Zootown quickly,” DeCuire said. “I thought they had a lot to do with our win. There were possessions where we scored and they were coming down trying to get play calls but couldn’t hear their coach. That’s a huge advantage.”

The Grizzlies haven’t played in many close games this season as just five total games had been decided by eight or fewer points coming into Saturday. Earlier in the season, they had struggled in the late-game situations.
Saturday was proof that Montana is learning how to win the close games, which will make the Grizzlies dangerous come March.

“I think they are more confident in close ball games and when things aren’t going their way,” DeCuire said. “Whether the opponent is making tough shots or it’s fouls, whatever the adversity is, they believe they can play through it. Trust is a key word they brought up in our meeting after the Northern Colorado game. I think these guys are doing a phenomenal job trusting each other right now.”

Thomas led Montana with 20 points while Moody and Whitney added 17 each. Te’Jon Sawyer had 13 points off the bench, including a pair of threes.

Laolu Oke had nine rebounds for Montana in just 19 minutes of action.

The Grizzlies now enter the final week of the season, which will include three games in five days to close things out. Around the Big Sky, Eastern Washington defeated Northern Colorado and Idaho State upset Weber State. The results, combined with a Montana win, mean that the Grizzlies are tied for second place and just two games behind Eastern Washington.

They will face the Eagles on Thursday night in Cheney with a chance to pull another game back. The top two seeds get an extra day of rest at the Big Sky Championships beginning March 9 in Boise.

“It’s matchups. Anybody can beat anyone,” DeCuire said of the Big Sky. “There are certain teams that play certain ways or have players that people can’t match up with. Anyone can lose to anyone, and we said we would get to the last week and the race would be for real with multiple teams in striking distance. We’re not the ones with the pressure on us, so we will go be loose and play, be aggressive, and see what happens.”