On the 10-year anniversary of the date Montana beat Nevada in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a repeat upset was not in the cards as the Grizzlies’ season came to a close in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) with a 79-75 loss to the Wolf Pack in Reno.
Montana finished the season at 21-12 overall, as head coach Travis DeCuire capped his second year at the helm of his alma mater as the only coach in Montana history to pick up 20-win seasons in his first two years.
The Grizzlies built a lead over the Wolf Pack as large as 13 points before being outscored 52-38 in the second half by the home team as Nevada advanced on to host Eastern Washington in the second round of the CBI.
“We stuck to our defensive plan, I think we had the right plan,” said Coach DeCuire. “At the end of the day they wanted it more. They stepped up, they made plays.
“You’ve got a team that’s shooting 28, 29 percent from three the last 12 games, 21 percent from three the last six games, and they shoot 63 percent in the second half from three.”
Montana received double figure shooting performances from four players, with Jack Lopez and Martin Breunig leading the way for UM with 20 each, followed by Walter Wright with 14 and Mario Dunn with 10.
Lopez was a man possessed in the first half, going 5-7 from behind the three-point line and 6-8 from the field for 17 points. He added three more on UM’s first possession of the second half to put him at 20 points, but he would remain just one point shy of a career high for the rest of the night, finishing on 7-10 from the field.
“He got going early, and shot the ball well earlier this afternoon,” added DeCuire. “It’s a bouncy rim and they rattled in for him, he took advantage of it. We did a good job of creating second, third defenders on the ball and kicking.”
Thanks to Lopez’ heroics, the Griz ran out to a 37-27 halftime lead, and were putting up answers to each question the Wolf Pack asked.
After Lopez’ three-pointer to open the half, D.J. Fenner and Lindsey Drew of the Wolf Pack heated up, and drained six three-pointers between them as Fenner tied the game at 56 with 10 minutes to play.
“Big shot” Bobby Moorhead came through in the clutch once again for the Grizzlies, breaking another tie four minutes later at 63-each, when he drained a three from the corer to put UM back on top 66-63.
The Wolf Pack would take the lead for good though with 1:35 remaining on another three-pointer from Drew, his fourth of the half, to put the home team up for good, 70-68.
Martin Breunig was once again stellar for the Griz, despite having a seemingly quiet night. For the eighteenth time this season the senior forward posted 20 or more points and pulled down nine rebounds.
With 624 points this season, Breunig finishes his career as the highest scoring two-year player in Montana history. His season total makes this the fifth-best single season in Montana history as well. He also finishes with 1,158 career points, and sits at No. 17 on UM’s all-time leading scorer list.
The silver lining to the dark cloud that hangs after a final loss of the season is that Breunig will be the only player the Griz lose to graduation next year. With a young team returning that saw two true freshmen see regular playing time and Oregon transfer Ahmaad Rorie returning to action after redshirting this season, the future looks bright for the Griz.
“I love this team, and they fought. They fought for me, and they fought for our community, they fought for the Griz, they played with pride,” said Coach DeCuire.
“We just weren’t as lucky as some others down the stretch, and that happens from time to time. But we’ll take the 21 wins and build on it next year.”
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