Game Recap

Bannan buries game-winner to lift Griz past Northern Colorado


MISSOULA, Montana — The frustration was written upon Josh Bannan’s face after he missed yet another shot, this one rejected by Northern Colorado standout Bodie Hume late in the second half of Monday’s early-morning Big Sky Conference battle.

That swatted shot attempt was part of a weekend that saw Bannan struggle mightily offensively. But with the Montana men’s basketball team staring a fourth straight one-possession league loss in the face, the freshman from Australia came up in the clutch.

Bannan came off a screen on an inbounds play, caught a pass from fellow true freshman Brandon Whitney and buried a 16-foot jumper from the left elbow with less than five seconds left to lift Montana to its first Big Sky Conference win.

“I expected to make it,” Bannan, a 6-foot-9 rookie from Melbourne, said after shaking off a 5-of-17 shooting night to finish with 11 points and seven rebounds. “I put a lot of work in on those shots.

“It was a tough game today, missing some shots I’d like to be making but I just have to have confidence and trust. When I’m that open, I have to take that shot and it felt good.”

The 56-54 victory gives the Grizzlies their first Big Sky win this season. The four contests have been decided by a total of six total points, including a 64-62 loss to UNC in Missoula on Saturday that was decided when Hume scored at the rim with one second left.

“No, not at all, can’t remember anything like this,” Montana seventh-year head coach Travis DeCuire said following his 86th career Big Sky win. “It’s been hard because you have such a young group because it’s hard to win those types of games with guys who have never been in that situation. We are learning as we go.”

The win also helps Montana avoid its first 0-4 start in Big Sky play in 50 years. The last time UM lost four consecutive Big Sky games to begin the conference grind, Lou Rocheleau was the head coach, legendary Lady Griz head coach Robin Selvig was a freshman basketball player and Judd Heathcote was still an assistant at Washington State.

“We played harder and we played more together,” DeCuire. “At the end of the day, that was our focus. I didn’t think we were playing hard enough to start the game on (Saturday) and we let them set the tone.

“In the first four minutes, you have to let someone know what it means to you and have confidence in yourself. I don’t think we did a good enough job of that on Saturday. Today, we did that.”

Saturday, Montana fell behind by 11 points in the first half and Griz senior post Michael Steadman found himself relegated to the bench for most of the final two-thirds of Saturday’s game.

Monday, Steadman showed more initiative, scoring six early points and drawing two early fouls on Kur Jockuch, Northern Colorado’s 6-foot-9 junior who is one of the best rim protectors in the Big Sky. A game after playing 15 minutes, Steadman played a team-best 33 minutes Monday.

The Griz held a 18-12 lead six minutes into the game, which would stand as Montana’s largest advantage of the weekend until the final few minutes of Monday’s contest. Steadman, a 6-foot-10 senior who transferred from San Jose State before last season yet still earned preseason All-Big Sky honors entering this year, scored 10 points in the first half and finished with 19 points to go with 10 rebounds as Montana matched UNC’s physicality after failing to do so on Saturday.

Montana Grizzlies forward Michael Steadman (1) shoots over Northern Colorado Bears forward Jamel Melvin (10). Montana beat Northern Colorado 64-62 on Monday, January 4, 2021 in Dahlberg Arena.

“It’s a dog fight so we had to be ready to go out there and hit them first because if we laid back, they will attack us,” Steadman said. “In the first game, they had a 21-10 lead so our big objective was to hit them first and carry that throughout the game, play as physical as we can.”

“I got away from what was important and what the team needs to be successful. I had a talk with Coach and we figured it out and we were able to come out with a W today.”

With Jockuch on the bench, Northern Colorado moved to doubling Steadman for the second 10 minutes of the first half and the first 15 minutes of the second half. The main player UNC chose to leave was Bannan, who entered the game having missed 11 straight 3-point attempts. The southpaw went 2-of-7 from the floor Saturday and started Monday’s contest 4-of-16.

Yet when the Griz needed Steadman the most, he stepped up and hit the clutch shot that gave a young, desperate team the shot of confidence they have been seeking since springing an upset at Washington of the Pac 12 last month.

“While we were having this conversation on Saturday, (Bannan) was in the gym shooting,” said DeCuire, referring to Bannan staying after Saturday’s loss, a game that ended with Bannan getting back-doored by Hume for the game winner and then with Bannan’s last-second heave at the buzzer coming up short. “He wanted to be that position again and he prepared himself for it.

“We have some guys that have all the right juice in their veins, we just have to grow through the other pains. The biggest thing for Bannan is that the adversity through the end of the game on Saturday, for him to have the opportunity and to hit that shot, it’s huge to see it go in for him.”

Bannan finished the weekend 7-of-24 from the floor yet reached double figures scoring for the fifth time during his rookie season.

“To be honest, I probably did get frustrated at times and it was tough, but my teammates put faith in me and they supported me through it,” Bannan said. “They have my back and you just have to keep having confidence in the work you put in.

“My coaches put the confidence in my to continue to be aggressive. Before the game, that was something we spoke about was being really aggressive, attacking the rim. I continued to do that through the missed shots knowing they were good shots and ultimately knowing they would fall.”

Montana freshman Josh Bannan with a dunk on Monday January 4, 2021 by Todd Goodrich, UM athletics

The crucial final run came between the second-to-last and the final media timeouts. Steadman scored eight of his points during an 11-2 Montana spurt that helped the Griz take their first lead of the second half. UM employed a lineup featuring four guards around Steadman after featuring a much bigger lineup for most of the weekend.

“We were able to get way more post touches, so we were able to share the ball better and our offense was way more fluid,” Steadman said of the lineup. “My post touches were deeper and it made the game easier. And we were playing a lot faster with four guards in as well.”

Montana’s attention now turns to another last minute out of conference contest. UM’s women and men’s basketball teams will host Division III Whitworth on Saturday afternoon. The men’s game is slated to tip at 7 p.m.

UM will now get to prepare for a game without the haunting result of a one-possession loss, a trend that ended on Monday morning in Missoula

“These close games are nerve-wracking like crazy but it’s building us as a team to be able to fight through adversity and win these close games,” Steadman said. “I think it will help us build down the stretch into the conference tournament and hopefully get into the real tournament. This was a big win for us.”

The Montana bench celebrates in the second half. Montana beat Northern Colorado 64-62 on Monday, January 4, 2021 in Dahlberg Arena.
Montana sophomore guard Josh Vazquez turns the corner around a Michael Steadman screen on Monday/ by Todd Goodrich, UM athletics
Montana sophomore Kyle Owens shoots out of the post against Northern Colorado/ by Todd Goodrich, UM Athletics

About Colter Nuanez

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate ('09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 13-year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to found Skyline Sports.

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