By ERIC TABER | Photos by WILLIAM MUNOZ
The Montana Grizzlies shot over 70 percent from three-point land, and four players reached double figures in a blowout 86-53 victory over Southern Utah on Thursday night in Dahlberg Arena.
The win keeps the Griz on top of the Big Sky Conference at 10-2 in league play and 15-8 overall, with just a single loss at home all season long. The victory also puts UM at 11-1 this year when scoring 75 points or more in a game.
The hot shooting performance for Montana, who in addition to making 12-of-17 threes also shot 62 percent overall, was paired with stellar defense as the Grizzlies led from the get-go.
“We’ve been talking a lot about shot selection, and working to get the best shot we can get for our team on every possession, and I think we did a good job of that tonight,” said Montana head coach Travis DeCuire.
After three straight halves where the Griz allowed opponents to shoot 60 percent or more, Montana buckled down, and its customarily strong defense controlled the game from whistle to whistle.
“It was important for us to come out tonight and contest shots, take away what they were trying to get and minimize penetration,” added Coach DeCuire. “We did a better job of that tonight than we’ve done in a long time.”
Martin Breunig earned player of the game honors as the senior forward had another efficient night, scoring 20 points on 70 percent shooting and grabbing a game-high seven rebounds. Breunig is now averaging 20.7 points per contest this season, and has upped his career average to 17.8 PPG, currently the second-best career average in Montana history.
The Montana bench also came up big, as Bobby Moorehead and Jack Lopez combined to shoot nine-for-nine, totaling 24 points. The pair hit three triples each to lead the barrage from behind the arc for the Griz. All told, the UM subs accounted for 34 points in a game where every player to see the court contributed in the score column.
The Griz made a statement early on, scoring the first eight points and moving into a double-digit lead in just over two minutes.
Offensively Montana could do no wrong, scoring on its first seven possessions, the final two of which were finished from three-point range by Brandon Gfeller, who put UM up 17-5. Southern Utah would score next on a three pointer by James McGee to cut the lead to nine, which would also be the final time the Griz lead was single-digits.
But Montana freshman guard Michael Oguine took the inbounds pass and flashed down the court, getting into the paint and going in for a lay-up in less than four seconds. Oguine was fouled, and hit two free throws to give Montana a 43-23 lead at the break.
The Grizzlies shot 80 percent from three in the first half and outrebounded Southern Utah 17-8. Oguine led all scorers with 10 points at halftime, but the freshman would stay there for the night, as he didn’t attempt a shot in the second half.
Jack Lopez started a big Montana rally with just over 12 minutes remaining in the game when Breunig found him for an open three on the perimeter. On the Grizzlies next possession, Oguine drove baseline and kicked out a beautiful pass to Lopez for another triple.
The six points from Lopez sparked a 16-2 Montana run. After a three-pointer from Riley Bradshaw four minutes later, the Griz had their largest lead of the game at 72-36. The final eight minutes passed without much action, as the Grizzlies kept the lead in the 30-point range to finish with the 86-53 win.
The Grizzlies now turn their attention to a Northern Arizona outfit that visits the Garden City on Saturday. The last time the Griz and Jacks faced off UM needed double overtime to leave Flagstaff with a win back on New Year’s Eve.
Tipoff against NAU is set for 7 p.m. on Saturday in Dahlberg Arena. Tickets still available at GoGriz.com.
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