Cold start dooms Griz in LA in season-opening loss to USC


Montana buckled down defensively after halftime, kept the Trojans from dominating the paint and received a few of standout debuts from a pair of freshmen.

Bu the size and athleticism of host USC proved to be too much for the Griz men’s basketball team as Montana fell 76-62 in Los Angeles on Saturday night.

A slow start doomed Montana in the season debut for the Griz against a USC team that squeaked out a 95-87 overtime victory over Cal Baptist two days ago. The Trojans raced out to a 16-4 advantage five minutes into the game. UM head coach Travis DeCuire played 10 of his 11 available players halfway through the first half as the visitors struggled to find any rhythm early.

By the second-to-last media timeout of the first half, the Trojans led 32-8. DeCuire called a timeout. Montana out-scored USC 17-12 over the final seven minutes, 21 seconds before halftime but a 44-25 deficit at the break proved too much to overcome.

After halftime, the Griz held USC to 8-of-25 shooting and won the stanza, 37-32. But the Griz shot 33.3 percent in the first half, 34.2 percent in the second half, 33.9 percent overall and missed 13 of their 17 attempts from beyond the arc in falling to 1-3 all-time against the Trojans.

Brandon Whitney, one of nine California natives on the roster, had an impressive Griz debut. The true freshman guard out of Bishop Alemany in Mission Hills, California scored a team-high 17 points in 34 minutes of action playing less than two hours north of his hometown, which is right outside San Diego.

Montana forward Kyle Owens gathers in the post vs. Montana State defense/by Brooks Nuanez

Josh Bannan, a 6-foot-9 forward from Melbourne, Australia, added 13 points and four rebounds before fouling out in 35 minutes of action.

Bannan was a part of Griz front line tasked with slowing down a USC frontcourt highlighted by freshman Evan Mobley, a 7-footer who was ranked as the top player in his class. Mobley finished with 11 points and seven rebounds in 31 minutes. His brother, Ian, had six points and 13 rebounds. Drew Peterson led the Trojans with 13 points.

Griz sophomore Kyle Owens, a product of Crespi Carmelite High in Calabasas, California was one of nine Griz who returned to their home state for Saturday’s opener. Owens’ father, Keith, played at UCLA and then spent a few years with the Los Angles Lakers. Kyle Owens finished with 11 points and seven rebounds in his first game as UM’s sixth man.

Montana sophomore Eddie Egun

Montana’s other California natives produced varying levels of results on Saturday. Michael Steadman, a preseason All-Big Sky selection who spent the first three years of his career at San Jose State, scored seven points and grabbed two rebounds in 22 minutes. Eddie Egun, a third-year sophomore guard from Woodland Hills, made his first start as a Griz but played just 11 minutes.

Derrick Carter Hollinger, last season’s Big Sky Conference Freshman of the Year, struggled with foul trouble throughout the game. The native of San Diego scored five points and only played 14 minutes.

All 11 players who made the trip to Los Angles for the Griz played. Montana opens up Big Sky Conference play on Thursday at Southern Utah. The Griz play in Cedar City, Utah again on Saturday in the opening weekend for conference play.

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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