Game Recap

Hume’s late bucket lifts Bears to 4th straight win over Montana


MISSOULA, Montana — As a despondent group of Grizzlies walked off the Dahlberg Arena court up the tunnel to the home locker room at the Adams Center, the yelling could be heard echoing into an empty arena where a handful of media had just watched Montana lose yet another close game.

Only the Griz know the context and specifics of the emotional outburst. But it’s easy to understand why UM head coach Travis DeCuire and his players are frustrated.

During DeCuire’s previous six seasons at the helm, the Griz have won 127 games, including 85 of their 113 (75.2 percent) Big Sky Conference games, the third-highest win percentage in league history. DeCuire has led the Griz to three regular-season conference titles and Montana has played in each of the last two conducted NCAA Tournaments.

On Saturday evening in Missoula, Northern Colorado took a lead less than three minutes into the game and did not relinquish it for more than a possession or two at a time for the rest of the contest.

Even when the fresh-faced Grizzlies built a five-point lead with three minutes, 25 seconds remaining behind the slick scoring of its rookie backcourt, Northern Colorado found a way to answer.

UNC All-Big Sky junior wing Bodie Hume scored at the rim with one second left and Griz true freshman forward Josh Bannan’s buzzer-beating fall-away 3-pointer came up just short as the Bears posted a 64-62 victory at Dahlberg Arena on Saturday.

Montana fell to 0-3 in conference play for the first time since 1997. The Griz started this season with nine new players in its roster, including three true freshmen — guards Brandon Whitney and Robby Beasley III along with forward Josh Bannan, all of whom played the last four minutes of this game — and have experienced as many ups (like a 66-58 win at Washington a few weeks ago) and lows (like a pair of one-point losses at Southern Utah to open league play the first weekend of December) as any of DeCuire’s Griz teams.

“We are trying to figure out how to close,” UM’s seventh-year head coach said after his team fell to 3-6 overall. “We have found ourselves in some really good ball games, three or four times at least this year and it’s yours to take. And I think the more experienced team has won these games up to this point.

“We have some growing up to do in terms of situations, how to handle certain situations, how to handle adversity and really make the best play for us at the end of the day. Hopefully, we can get there sooner than later.”

Montana freshman guard Robby Beasley (5) gets fouled under the rim vs Northern Colorado Saturday/by Tommy Martino – Griz Communicatons

The win is Northern Colorado’s fourth straight over the Grizzlies. UNC has now won three games in a row in Missoula. Hume, the 2018-19 Big Sky Freshman of the Year and a second-team all-league pick last season, overcame foul trouble to score 14 points in 25 minutes to help UNC move to 2-1 in Big Sky play.

Tre’Shon Smoots continued his emergence as a sophomore, nailing three 3-pointers, including a go-ahead triple with 52 seconds left on the way to scoring a team-high 16 points. Daylen Kountz, an explosive combo guard who transferred to UNC from Colorado last off-season, scored 10 of his 14 points in the first half and helped Northern Colorado build a 29-16 lead with six minutes until halftime.

Throughout the game, the raw talent and the volatility of the Grizzlies were each on full display throughout Saturday’s game. Montana built the first lead, 4-2, 3:25 into the game only to see the UNC go on a 16-3 run to its 13-point lead.

UM answered that run with a 13-3 spurt to enter halftime down 32-29. UM cut the lead to one point less than three minutes into the second half and did not trail by more than four points for the first 13 minutes following halftime. But the Griz went nearly 33 minutes without leading until Bannan’s bucket with 6:54 left gave Montana a 49-48 lead.

Whitney, a flossy combo guard from Mission Hills, California, scored two points the first 32 minutes of the game. He scored eight during a stretch of less than three minutes, including consecutive mid-range jumpers to help the Griz push their brief lead to 57-52 with 3:25 left and join sophomore Kyle Owens in double figures scoring.

But a Hume 3-pointer and a Kur Jockoch dunk erased that lead with 90 seconds left. Smoots’ 3-pointer with less than a minute to play and his pair of made free throws with 23 seconds remaining helped the Bears retake the lead for good.

Beasley, who finished with a team-high 12 points, drew a foul on a 3-pointer and hit all three free throws to tie the game at 62 with 15.4 seconds left. But the Bears executed on their final play despite a panicked pass by Smoots to Hume a second from the buzzer on the game-winning bucket.

Montana freshman guard Brandon Whitney (12) turns the corner vs. Northern Colorado Saturday/by Tommy Martino – Griz Communications

“They set a guard-on-guard screen and we switched it,” Whitney said. “I was on the guy (Smoots). He came down on his left hand and he was in the air, didn’t know where to throw it and our guy (Bannan) got back-doored and (Smoots) threw it there, he (Hume) threw something up and it went in.”

“In the clutch, especially at the end, we need to get stops,” added Beasley. “We can’t go back and forth with them throughout the game. They made their run in the first half then we got some energy. We came with it in the second half but at the end of the day, it comes down to stops. You gotta get buckets and stops.”

Despite the loss, Whitney and Beasley carried the Griz down the stretch. True freshmen scored Montana’s final 15 points, including 13 points from the two rookie guards. The other bucket came from Bannan.

“That’s really the game plan: we just keep driving and keep looking for open lanes and whoever has it, they just go,” Beasley said. “That’s our game plan so far because a lot of teams we have played, they have had trouble staying in front of our guards. If they are loading up, then there is going to be an open lane.”

After the final media timeout, DeCuire employed a lineup that included his three standout freshmen along with Owens and fellow sophomore Josh Vazquez.

Senior center Michael Steadman, a preseason All-Big Sky selection after transferring before last season from San Jose State, battled turnover troubles and scored just six points in 15 minutes.

Derrick Carter-Hollinger, last season’s Big Sky Freshman of the Year, has been relegated to a bench role as he returns from an injury that cost him three full games and a part of others. He scored four points in 20 minutes.

Montana head coach Travis DeCuire coaching vs Northern Colorado Saturdayvs. Northern Colorado Saturday/by Tommy Martino – Griz Communications

Sophomore Eddy Egun played nine solid minutes in the first half, helping the Griz buckle down on Kountz after the former Colorado 5A Player of the Year from Denver East High became the first player in double figures scoring. But Egun did not play in the second half. And Cam Parker, a transfer from Sacred Heart, finished with four points and two assists in 18 minutes.

Instead, DeCuire went with a lineup where Owens, who finished with 10 points and five rebounds, is the leader as a sophomore and the primary perimeter scorers are Whitney and Beasley. The sum result so far has been three conference losses in the span of 30 days and by a total of four points.

“This comes down to hustle plays and attention to detail,” DeCuire said. “Your opponent gets a rebound on a missed free throw, somebody didn’t block off, somebody didn’t do their job assisting on a block off. There was a couple of long rebounds we didn’t get. They had too many extra possessions.

“For us, if we are going to win these games, we have to get the balls that are ours when we have inside possession and the other piece is offensively, we have to be stronger mentally to have the patience to turn down an OK shot to get a better shot.”

Montana hosts Northern Colorado again on Monday in a game that tips earlier than any in program history. The rematch will begin at 9 a.m.

“The great thing is we get to play them on Monday,” Beasley said. “Instead of playing them later in the year, we can make quick adjustments and we can go at them with a vengeance. It’s fresh, the wound is fresh so we are going to come out Monday and play like our backs are against the wall. We are 0-3 in conference, so we have to get some wins.”

Montana freshman forward Josh Bannan (13) releases a shot vs. Northern Colorado Saturday/by Tommy Martino – Griz Communications

After winning 46 league games over the last three seasons, UM will try to win its first conference game of the season against a team that has had the Grizzlies’ number as of late.

“We’ve been here as a program,” DeCuire said. “In 2016, we had multiple games where we were at the free throw line to win it and if we would’ve won the ones in conference, we would’ve won the conference. But we finished fifth. But we were young and your leadership was sophomores. Right now, we have a really young group so you just keep plugging away.

“You don’t’ want to make up excuses and you don’t want to blame being young for your reason. You want to stay aggressive, keep plugging away and they all should be angry and be a little more aggressive their next time they get to go out and compete.”

Photos by Tommy Martino, UM athletics. All Rights Reserved.

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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