Game Recap

Griz outlast Idaho State in Pocatello

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It’s been an unusual circumstance for the Montana Grizzlies to find their names toward the bottom of the Big Sky Conference standings this season.

It’s been an unusual circumstance for the Idaho State Bengals to find their names toward the stop of the league hierarchy.

On Thursday in Pocatello, Idaho, the atypical nature of this season did not come to fruition. Instead, the Griz defeated the Bengals for the 20th straight time.

Visiting Montana held off a strong Idaho State final charge to post a 64-58 win.

“The biggest thing was we handled adversity tonight,” Montana 7th-year head coach Travis DeCuire told Riley Corcoran of the Grizzly Radio Network following the game. “We had some guys (guard Brandon Whitney and forward Josh Bannan) got in foul trouble early but they hung in there and supported their teammates while they were on the floor.”

Montana built a 30-16 lead in the first 15 minutes and change of action. The advantage for the visitors swelled to 16 points, 50-34, with 11 minutes, 37 seconds left.

But a Bengal team that entered the game with a 7-3 Big Sky mark fully in the hunt for a bye to next month’s Big Sky Tournament in Boise chipped the lead all the way down to a few possessions.

UM freshman Brandon Whitney converted the only two made field goals of the second half of the second half. Yet UM held on to move to 6-2 during Thursday league games.

Montana head coach Travis DeCuire calls out orders to his team. The Griz lost to the Eastern Washington Eagles 91-76 on February 21, 2021 in Dahlberg Arena.

“The biggest thing for me was holding them to 29 percent (shooting) in the first half, which meant we got to transition and they are not a good defensive transition team,” DeCuire said. “We got some good shots, early shots, and mostly, the ball screens in transition were a problem for them.”

Idaho State entered the game as one of the most improved teams in the Big Sky. In head coach Ryan Looney’s first season at the helm, ISU won eight games. This season, the Bengals have had Covid interruptions more than most teams in the Big Sky.

Entering Thursday, ISU had series against Weber State, Montana State and Southern Utah cancelled. ISU plays Montana again Saturday before closing its regular-season with a two-game set at Eastern Washington, the Big Sky’s front-runner, remaining.

ISU remained in the hunt mathematically to win the Big Sky title before Thursday’s loss. Now ISU is 7-4 in league, 12-8 overall. Last season, the last-place and 11th-seeded Bengals beat No. 6 Northern Arizona in the first round of the Big Sky Tournament. Their next game was supposed to come against the third-seeded Griz in the quarterfinals. Instead, the Big Sky and NCAA Tournaments were called off last March, meaning the Bengals never got that shot at the Griz until Thursday.

Thursday, the Griz held Idaho State to 29 percent in the first half, then kept the clamps on to snap a three-game losing streak. UM build its 9-point halftime advantage, and held the hosts to 35.2 percent shooting, including just 4-of-24 from beyond the arc. The Griz lost the rebounding battle 36-33 but stellar freshman Josh Bannan helped keep it close.

The 6-foot-9 rookie from Australia scored 10 of Montana’s first 17 points as UM lead 17-6 with 10:32 left in the first half. Since re-entering the starting lineup five games ago, Bannan has scored in double figures each contest.

Last Saturday in a 90-76 home loss to Eastern Washington that gave the Eagles their first sweep of the Griz since 2003, Bannan finished with a career-high 20 points to go with nine rebounds.

Thursday, Bannan ended up pouring in 19 points and snaring 13 rebounds. The southpaw forward from Melbourne, Australia kick-started the Griz. He has scored 76 points (15.2 per game) over UM’s last five games while also grabbing nearly eight boards a game.

“Bannan was aggressive driving, hit some mid-range jumpers and he had the 3-pointer go in, the hoop gets big for him,” DeCuire said.

Montana has made a habit of letting leads slip away late in games this season. A team that has lately been starting three freshmen while also heavily relying on four sophomores entered Thursday flirting with its first losing season in more than a decade.

Thursday, UM’s lead swelled to as many as 16 points yet shrunk as the game clock dwindled.

UM didn’t convert a field goal in the final nearly 11 minutes of the game other than a pair of buckets by Whitney, who finished with 14 points, to keep the Bengals at bay.

Griz junior point guard Cam Parker came off the bench to continue his campaign for the Big Sky’s top reserve by scoring 10 points and dishing out six assists as UM moved to 10-12 overall.

The Grizzlies, who remain alive for a first-round bye at next month’s Big Sky Tournament, play a rematch with the Bengals at 11 a.m. on Saturday.

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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