Big Sky Conference

LUCKY NO. 13: Griz fend off Sac State in OT to extend streak


It took a second-half comeback and five extra minutes, but the Montana Grizzlies ran their Big Sky record to 13-0 Saturday night by beating Sacramento State 71-69 in overtime at Dahlberg Arena.

“I think it was great for us to have a tight game right now, to play from behind right now,” said Montana coach Travis DeCuire, who has now led the Grizzlies to 20 wins in three of his first four seasons at the helm for his alma mater. “We’re probably going to have to do it again. You’re going to find yourself in the Big Sky tournament, and at that point, everybody’s playing with nothing to lose and they’re probably going to raise the bar.”

In a game that didn’t lack for big moments, maybe the most impactful came off the court, as a crucial video review with 1:30 left in overtime turned a Sacramento State (6-19, 3-9) 3-pointer into a 2 and a 67-67 tie into a 67-66 Montana lead.

Sayeed Pridgett followed with a layup for the Griz (20-5, 13-0), Ahmaad Rorie had a crucial steal and the home team sealed its 16th win in 17 outings at the free throw line in the final minute.

Michael Oguine finished with 25 points and seven rebounds for Montana, which kept up its blazing start to Big Sky Conference play. With five games left on the regular-season schedule, the Griz have clinched a first-round bye in the conference tournament with Saturday’s win.

Montana head coach Travis DeCuire, left, and senior Fabijan Krslovic/ by Jason Bacaj

The milestone didn’t come easily. Justin Strings, who finished with 21 points and seven rebounds, and the Hornets led as many as nine points in the second half. Montana didn’t claw back until there were just 12 seconds left in regulation thanks to some heroics from its lone senior.

After making a brilliant play to deflect a Sac State inbounds pass, keep the ball inbounds and save it to a teammate, Montana’s  Fabijan Krslovic made 1-of-2 free throws to tie it at 61.

“I was just thinking about my [free throw] routine and to not get rattled by the moment,” Krslovic said. “And I was also thinking in the back of my mind, ‘Just make at least one. Don’t be an idiot and miss two.’”

That kicked off a wild finish.

Montana’s Jamar Akoh was called for his fifth foul while going for the rebound of Krslovic’s second, missed free throw. That sent James Herrick to the line with a chance to give Sac State the lead back with five seconds left, but he missed the front end of a 1-and-1.

Oguine had one last chance to win it in regulation for Montana, but his layup fell off the rim to send the game to overtime.

“I was a little disappointed in myself for missing that shot,” Oguine said. “It’s a shot I’ve practiced a lot, it felt good, hit the rim a couple times. I was a little disappointed.”

Oguine redeemed himself in overtime with the highlight of the game, a monster tip dunk with 1:47 left that gave the Griz a 67-64 lead.

Jordan Tolbert looked to have tied the game with a 3-pointer on Sac State’s next possession, but the review determined that his toe was on the line, allowing Montana to hold on to the slimmest of leads.

The win was the closest yet in Montana’s 13-game conference winning streak, and it was that way from the start.

Montana junior Michael Oguine/ by Jason Bacaj

Oguine’s shooting carried the Griz to a narrow 34-31 lead at halftime. The junior guard started off hot, opening the scoring with a 3-pointer just 43 seconds into the game. He would go on to hit his first three shots from deep, and finish the half with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field, 4-of-5 from behind the arc.

“It was good that I was able to get a few shots to go in the first half to keep us in the game,” Oguine said. “We were [defending], our shots just weren’t falling as much. I was in rhythm a little bit, so I just kept shooting.”

Strings showed off some shotmaking of his own to keep Sac State in the game, scoring 12 points in the first half. After a slow start from the Hornets, the senior forward canned a tough pull-up jumper and a corner 3 on consecutive possessions to give his team its first lead at 14-13.

“He’s a great player,” said Krslovic, who was tasked with guarding Strings for the majority of the game. “He’s a bit of a nightmare for a lot of teams. He’s big, he’s got the skill set of a guard, so if you put a guard on him, he’ll go inside and score over you all day.”

Krslovic guarded Strings down the stretch, not allowing the 6-foot-7 swingman to score for the final four minutes, 24 seconds of regulation and all of the five-minute overtime.

It was back and forth from there all the way to the halftime break.

Oguine splashed his fourth 3-pointer of the period with 3:44 to go until halftime to cap a 10-0 Montana run and give the Griz a 30-23 lead, but Sacramento State closed the period strong to cut their deficit to just one possession heading to the locker room.

Montana junior post Jamar Akoh/ by Jason Bacaj

In the middle of that run, however, Hornets big man Josh Patton, who had 10 points and seven rebounds in the first half, picked up his third foul on a charge with just 55 seconds left until halftime.

Patton, along with fellow post Calvin Martin, would go on to foul out on consecutive Montana possessions with six minutes left in the game, helping pave the way for the Griz comeback.

Akoh picked up his fifth double-double in conference play and seventh overall, racking up 13 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out.

Patton finished with 14 points and eight rebounds for Sac State.

The Hornets will host Idaho State on Thursday.

Montana will now embark on its last road trip of the regular season, traveling to Eastern Washington on Thursday and Idaho next Saturday.

Andrew Houghton is a freelance journalist living in Missoula. He can be reached at 

About Andrew Houghton

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