Game Recap

Griz beat Idaho State to complete first sweep of Big Sky season


The Griz finally earned the sweep they have coveted all season.

The University of Montana men’s basketball team has won six times in eight Thursday Big Sky Conference games this season. Before Saturday, Montana los all seven of its rematches with the same teams played on the first day of the weekend.

In Pocatello, Idaho, Montana did not make it easy once again. But a Brandon Whitney free throw with two seconds left helped lead the visiting Grizzlies to a 59-58 victory over Idaho State.

The win is UM’s 21st straight against a Bengals squad that entered the game in fourth place in the Big Sky standings. Montana’s first sweep of the season moves the Grizzlies to 7-9 in league play and 11-12 overall. ISU, a team that finished in last place last season, is now 7-5 in league play and 12-9 overall.

ISU has a series next weekend at reigning Big Sky champion and first place Eastern Washington. The Griz play a set against last-place Idaho.

Montana junior Mac Anderson shoots a free throw on Saturday/ by Nic Hallisey, UM athletics

Saturday, Montana built a 15-point lead only to see it dwindle away, ushering up memories of how pretty much every Griz series has gone this season. The young Grizzlies — UM has no seniors and just 11 scholarship players, including just three juniors on its roster — blew late leads in one-possession losses to Southern Utah (twice), Northern Colorado (64-62) and Northern Arizona (62-58) along with losing a double-overtime 89-83 loss to Sac State.

Any of those Saturday wins could’ve changed the complexion of Montana’s season but the reloading program has not been able to close sweeps. That is, until Saturday.

For the second game in a row, Montana executed a smothering defensive effort. The Griz held the Bengals to six made field goals on 27 percent shooting in building a 32-19 halftime lead.

Montana sophomore Josh Vazquez hit a baseline jumper against Idaho State on February 27, 2021/ Nic Hallisey, UM athletics

UM took its largest lead, 34-19, less than three minutes into the second half on a Kyle Owens jumper. Josh Vazquez hit a pair of free throws with 10 minutes left to again make the gap 15, 42-27. And a Vazquez jumper with 3:14 left had the lead at 57-47.

The Griz did not make a shot the rest of the game. Meanwhile, Robert Ford III hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored eight points as ISU cut the lead to 58-56 with 1:39 left. Daxton Carr’s lay-up with 68 seconds left tied the game at 58.

With 50 seconds left, Whitney had his lay-up try blocked by Malik Porter and ISU secured possession. But Ford missed at the rim with 20 seconds left to give UM one last chance.

Whitney, who finished 1-of-7 from the floor and scored six points, got into the lane late in the clock and got hammered by a host of ISU defenders, including Ford.

The true freshman — one of three rookies in UM’s starting lineup — stepped to the line and knocked down one of two free throws. Owens stole the ensuing inbounds pass and proceeded to run directly off the court and to the locker room. Most of the Griz followed, foregoing the post-game handshake, although head coaches Travis DeCuire and Ryan Looney shook hands. Idaho State had a couple of hard fouls on Montana, including a cheap shot late in the first half that was called a flagrant foul after Eddy Egun was plowed into the scorer’s table.

Montana freshman guard Robby Beasley led the Griz with 18 points at Idaho State on Saturday/ by Nic Hallisey

Ford led the Bengals with 18 points. UM freshman Robby Beasley III matched that total to lead the Griz. UM junior Mack Anderson, into the starting lineup the last few weeks after the abrupt transfer of senior big man Michael Steadman, finished with 15 points and six rebounds before fouling out.

The defensive effort was a far cry from UM’s last three outings. The Griz game up 90 or more points for three consecutive games for the first time since 1970 in losses to Weber State and a sweep at the hands of EWU.

The weekend sweep keeps Montana alive to extend several historic streaks. The Grizzlies are one of 19 teams in the country with at least 12 consecutive winning seasons, a list that includes Duke, Michigan State, North Carolina and Kentucky. All of those blue bloods are struggling during this atypical season as well.

UM has not had a losing season since 2003-2004 when Pat Kennedy was the head coach. The Griz have just five losing seasons since Judd Heathcote took over as the head men’s basketball coach in 1971. UM has finished under .500 in league play just five times since Heathcote left UM for Michigan State in 1976

If Montana sweeps Idaho, they will finish over .500 and will have a 9-9 league record. UM’s seventh league win also gives them one more than Montana State (6-5), Portland State (6-6) and Northern Colorado (6-7).

The Griz remain alive for a first-round bye in the Big Sky Tournament the second week of March despite the growing pains Montana has experienced this season.

Big Sky Conference men’s basketball standings

StandingsConferencePct.PFPA OverallPct.PFPA HomeAwayNeutralLast 10Streak
Eastern Washington11-2.84685.173.5 12-6.66780.472.3 6-16-50-09-1W 9
Southern Utah10-2.83379.673.7 17-3.85085.669.7 14-03-30-08-2W 7
Weber State10-3.76982.770.0 15-5.75083.769.2 10-05-40-18-2W 4
Idaho State7-4.63664.061.9 12-8.60069.360.7 8-24-40-27-3L 1
Montana State6-5.54572.073.0 9-8.52975.172.9 4-25-60-05-5L 5
Northern Colorado6-6.50068.167.8 10-8.55669.767.3 6-44-40-05-5W 2
Portland State5-6.45567.164.5 8-10.44470.165.6 7-41-60-06-4L 1
Montana6-9.40069.770.1 10-12.45570.567.2 6-44-80-04-6W 1
Sacramento State4-7.36469.973.1 7-9.43871.370.6 5-22-70-03-7L 3
Northern Arizona4-10.28664.873.1 5-15.25062.775.4 1-74-70-12-8L 4
Idaho1-16.05961.978.0 1-19.05060.977.1 1-80-110-01-9W 1

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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