Just two days after Idaho dropped a double-overtime contest on the other side of the state, they picked up revenge in an overtime game against Montana Saturday night, handing the Grizzlies their fourth consecutive loss, 85-77.
In a fast and physical game that saw the two sides combine for 26 turnovers and 47 personal fouls, the clutch play of Victor Sanders, who scored a game-high 28, was the difference-maker for the visitors.
The loss drops Montana back to .500 in conference play at 5-5 and moves them to 10-13 overall. It is the first time Montana has suffered a Big Sky weekend sweep at home since the 2007-08 season.
Montana showed improvements offensively after Thursday night’s loss to Eastern Washington, leading for over 30 minutes, but a late run from the Vandals forced overtime, and a hot finish sealed it.
The Vandals made their final four field goal attempts, while Montana ended the game making just one of their last seven shots, and only three of 13 shots in the overtime period.
“It sometimes think when you get a lead you want it to be comfortable, but we didn’t keep doing the things we were doing to get the lead,” said Montana head coach Travis DeCuire.
“We were physical, we were defending, we were rebounding, we were executing on offense, we were getting what we wanted on both ends of the floor. But every time we’d get up to 10 or 11, we’d have three or four lapses where we weren’t doing the right things, and they made us pay every single time.
“Eventually in the second half, it happened so many times that it caught up to us and it cost us.”
Michael Oguine, who played 39 minutes, was a human highlight reel all game long, pacing Montana with 25 points while also pulling down seven rebounds. His backcourt teammates Walter Wright and Ahmaad Rorie returned to the line-up, and both shot double figures with 14 and 11, respectively.
Rorie made his presence felt immediately, knocking down a triple from the top of the key on the first possession of the game. The Grizzlies couldn’t gain much separation early, but a technical foul on Idaho coach Don Verlin led to a four-point Montana possession that gave them a 14-10 lead. Jack Lopez followed that up with a trey to spark a seven-point Grizzly run.
The highlight of the game was provided by Oguine, who drove baseline and rose through contact for a vicious and-one slam. Oguine received a technical foul for hanging on the rim, but the Vandals missed the free throw, and the Griz guard made his on the other end to put the Montana up 25-16.
It was Oguine again, knocking down a corner three from just in front of the Idaho bench with five minutes left in the half, that gave Montana its biggest lead of the game at 32-21.
The Vandals were able to cut the lead back down to four inside of two minutes, but a triple from Wright extended the lead back out to eight points at the halftime break.
Just like in the first half, Montana knocked down a trey on their first possession of the second, with Lopez connecting for his second on the night to get the lead back into double-digits for Montana.
Idaho wouldn’t go away, however, rallying off an 11-2 run to get back within one possession of Montana. The backcourt of Rorie and Wright provided the answer for Montana, reeling off seven quick points between them to extend the lead back out to 52-45 with just under 15 minutes left.
Montana failed to score for more than three minutes, which led DeCuire to shift to a small ball lineup with Bobby Moorehead as the largest player. The Vandals had the answer and went on a 7-0 run to take the lead, 62-58.
“The biggest thing for us down the stretch was shot selection. There were some shots we could have turned down where there’s 10, 15 seconds still on the clock where we could have worked through something a little better,” added DeCuire.
The Grizzlies, finding success from the free-throw line, were able to tie the game back up at 66-all with three minutes remaining.
After taking a two-point lead, the Vandals seemed poised to make it four with an easy transition lay-up, but Oguine chased down Ingram and blocked the shot to give Montana a chance with less than a minute to play.
The Vandals had an opportunity to ice it again after a Montana miss, but Oguine picked the ball from Sanders and converted an and-one lay-up at the other end to tie the game at 68. Oguine’s free throw with 16 seconds remaining wouldn’t fall, giving Idaho the last chance for the win.
They put the ball in the hands of Sanders, who had 22 on the night so far, but his last-second attempt came up short, and the game went into overtime.
“(Coming into the game) everyone was fired up, communication was great, and in the first half, we felt pretty good about where we were,” DeCuire added. “We made minor adjustments at halftime, but we came out in the second half and weren’t the team defensively we were two weeks ago.”
In the overtime period, the Vandals opened up a five-point lead within the first two minutes on a pair of deep jumpers.
A pair of Idaho free throws put the lead back at four, but Wright drove in and finished a step-back floater with the left hand to make it 75-73. A nicely drawn play resulted in a wide-open lay-in for the Vandals, and again the lead grew to four.
“That was the difference. Mental focus, then the mental toughness through adversity. They wanted it more, and they decided they were going to be tougher than us down the stretch,” said DeCuire.
But that set up another highlight-reel type of play from Oguine, who snagged an offensive rebound and drove through the lane, finishing a spinning and-one lay-up. He converted the free throw to trim the Idaho lead to 77-76.
Sanders knocked down another clutch jumper on the other end, but Montana remained within a possession, down three. Montana failed to score, and Sanders went to the line and converted a pair to give the visitors an 81-76 lead with under a minute to play.
Montana couldn’t convert offensively down the stretch, and the Vandals held on for the 85-77 win.
“We’re going to hit the reset button, and we’ll just keep resetting that button until we get it right. At the end of the day we can still go to the tournament and win three or four, whatever we need to win. But for us, we just need to get to where we’re playing consistent basketball.
“We’ll be ok. We’re going to work hard. We’ll take Monday off, but I think we’ll come back after getting rested up and get after it.”
The loss drops Montana to No. 6 on the league table after a night of upsets around the Big Sky that saw Portland State fall to Sacramento State, Eastern Washington fall to Montana State and Northern Arizona take down North Dakota.
The Griz will have the chance to jump back into the top five in what is shaping up to be one of the most important Griz/Cat games in recent years coming up on Saturday in Missoula, with Montana State currently sitting at No. 4 on the league table.