(Editor's note: University of Montana athletics press release)
GREELEY, Colo.— If Saturday is any indication what the rest of the Big Sky Conference basketball season is going to be like, fans are in for a treat. Montana and Northern Colorado – two of the better teams in the league – battled for 40 minutes Saturday night at Bank of Colorado Arena, with Northern Colorado coming away with a 78-75 win after the Grizzlies' 3-point attempt at the buzzer just missed.
The game featured an astonishing 12 tie scores and 15 lead changes, with neither team leading by more than a possession over the final 8 minutes.
A Cameron Parker free throw gave Montana a 75-74 lead with 35.7 seconds to play, before UNC recaptured the lead on a dunk, 76-75, with 23 ticks remaining.
In the closing seconds, Montana had several opportunities, but couldn't quite capitalize.
Parker's layup through contact was off the mark, but sophomore Josh Bannan secured the offensive rebound to give the Grizzlies another possession. His mid-range jumper was short, but again, Montana got the loose ball, this time on a tie-up win from Kyle Owens with 6.2 seconds to play.
Parker in-bounded the ball to sophomore Robby Beasley III, but his mid-range jumper from the left was blocked, forcing the Grizzlies to foul. UNC's Matt Johnson made both of his free-throw attempts before Montana's Lonnell Martin Jr. got a clean look from 35 feet out that drew iron, but didn't fall in, giving the Bears a 78-75 victory.
"We had chances down the stretch, and they just didn't quite go our way," head coach Travis DeCuire said.
It was a painful result for Montana, which led for 23 minutes, 20 seconds (compared to 11:58 for UNC), including an eight-point halftime lead, which was the largest lead for either team all night.
Montana shot .500 in the first half but was held to .400 shooting in the second half, compared to .619 for the Bears (including 6-of-11 from deep). The hot shooting allowed UNC to out-score Montana by 11 in the second half (42 to 31).
Montana turned the ball over just seven times while forcing UNC into 16 giveaways – which resulted in 15 Griz points – but the Grizzlies were out-rebounded by 11 (35 to 24) and took half as many free throws (28 to 14).
"We did a phenomenal job in the first half of taking away the 3-point line," said DeCuire, whose team limited UNC to 2-of-7 shooting from deep in the first period. "But your human tendencies are to react to the penetration, and we gave up quite a few 3's down the stretch cheating on a couple screens off the ball.
"We made some human errors, and then it's hard to win a game when your opponent shoots twice as many free throws as you do."
Parker played a season-high 31 minutes and led Montana with 15 points plus five assists. Owens, who didn't play in Thursday's win at Sacramento State, came off the bench to total 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting in the best performance of his junior season.
"We continue to tell guys to stay ready," DeCuire said. "KO didn't play last game, and he came in ready to perform. Guys are in the right frame of mind right now."
Bannan (11) and Beasley (10 points, team-high six rebounds) were also in double figures for scoring, followed by sophomore Brandon Whitney (nine points, four assists, three steals) and senior Scott Blakney (eight on 3-of-3 shooting).
As has been the case all season, UNC's top six players each scored at least eight points, led by 18 points from Daylen Kountz and a double-double (13 points and 10 rebounds) from Kur Jongkuch.
After a road trip that saw the Grizzlies play three games in three states over six days, Montana will jump back into non-conference play, where it will host Air Force (Wednesday) and Yellowstone Christian College (Friday).
"You can afford to split on the road as long as you take care of business at home," DeCuire said. "Now we'll go home, get fresh and get better for the rest of non-conference."