MISSOULA — Thursday served as a special night for Scott Blakney.
The senior for the Montana men's basketball team and transfer from Idaho faced his old team at Dahlberg Arena, and he poured in eight points in 13 minutes of work to help lead the Grizzlies past the Vandals, 81-62. The win was Montana's third in a row and sixth in its last seven games, as the Grizzlies extended their home winning streak to 12 games.
Blakney has been working his way back from a right wrist injury, and had missed five straight games before seeing limited time back on UM's most recent road trip at Portland State and Northern Arizona. Thursday served as the most minutes he had played in a UM uniform since Dec. 13.
"It was a lot of fun," Blakney said. "Talked to the guys before the game, a little in the game. There was a little bit of competitiveness in there so it was a lot of fun to see the guys and play against those guys.
"I feel like I'm starting to get my legs back under me and starting to feel more comfortable just with the speed of the game, I feel like is the biggest thing. Hopefully I can keep those strides going and try to be as successful as I can and help the team as much as I can going into the conference tournament which is when it's most important."
"We just kind of hyped him up for this game," UM sophomore guard Brandon Whitney added. "He'd been looking forward to this game for a long time so we just had to lift him up. He had a good week of practice and he did what he was supposed to do out there."
Josh Bannan led UM with `18 points and nine rebounds while Cameron Parker added 15 points and four assists. Robby Beasley III added 13 points and Whitney tallied 12 for UM (14-6, 7-2 Big Sky). Lonnell Martin Jr. added nine points and eight rebounds as well as Montana shot at a 54.2% rate from the field and went 5 for 16 from deep. The Grizzlies held Idaho to 45.1% shooting and also forced 15 turnovers against the Vandals (5-15, 2-8).
"Defense wins games," UM coach Travis DeCuire said. "I honestly believe that if you can take 10, 15, 20 points off of a team's average which we've been doing a bit here and there this year, you have a really good chance of winning. When you get stops you get in transition and get higher percentage shots and so for us defensively right now we're playing at a high level and Brandon Whitney has been incredible in terms of his ability to take not only points off of the board but he's minimizing the number of attempts that leading scorers are getting and that makes it a lot easier on us."
For DeCuire, the win was No. 156 for him as the Grizzlies' head coach, which passes former Griz great Mike Montgomery for third all-time on UM's win list. Montgomery is one of many DeCuire mentors during his time as a coach, and now DeCuire trails Wayne Tinkle who sits in second with 158 wins. George Dahlberg holds the all-time record with 221 wins at Montana.
"It just means I'm a part of something special," the eighth-year head coach and Montana alum said. "I've got a great staff, we've had great players but for me this journey started at Mercer Island High School. Five years with Blaine Taylor (at Old Dominion), six years with Mike Montgomery (at Cal), some really good things rubbed off. I've played in the system, I've coached in the system before becoming a head coach and kind of sticking to the script and putting a decent product on the floor and things happen. For me, it's more about being a part of something special than anything special I've done."
UM will host Eastern Washington (11-9, 5-4) on Saturday at 7 p.m. The Grizzlies beat the Eagles in their first meeting this season, 90-78.