(Editor's note: University of Montana media release)
STARKVILLE, Miss. — Montana got a taste of what the next level looks like on Saturday night, facing a Mississippi State team receiving top-25 votes after advancing to the NIT finals a season ago. The Grizzlies couldn't contain the Bulldogs defensively or score frequently enough on the other end of the floor, losing 86-49 inside Humphrey Coliseum.
"We played against a good basketball team, a hungry basketball team," head coach Travis DeCuire said. "You could tell, from some of Howland's press conferences, that they spent a lot of time preparing for us. They did the things they needed to do."
The Grizzlies started the game strong, taking a 2-0 lead on a Lonnell Martin Jr. step-back jumper and forcing turnovers on three of Mississippi State's first four offensive possessions.
Things unraveled after that, though, as the Bulldogs scored the next 12 points. The home team made five consecutive shots during that span while Montana was held to 0-of-4 shooting with three turnovers.
Montana trailed at the half, 42-16, and then a bad start turned worse as Mississippi State scored the first 13 points of the second half, building a 55-16 advantage and forcing a quick timeout less than 3 minutes into the second period.
Montana found a rhythm after that, scoring 25 points in the next 10 minutes and out-scoring the Bulldogs over the remainder of the contest. The Grizzlies could never put a dent in the deficit, however.
Montana a season ago was so stout defending against the long ball, ranking 52nd nationally while holding opponents to a .312 clip. The Bulldogs thrived from distance, though, connecting on 13 triples, despite averaging just 5.4 a season ago (318th nationally).
The Bulldogs shot .565 from 3-point range and .525 overall. It was the most 3-pointers Montana has allowed since Creighton connected on 13 in November 2018.
“No. 4 (Cameron Matthews) and No. 13 (D.J. Jeffries) went 6-for-8 from 3-point range, and we kind of played percentages a bit,” DeCuire said. “I thought we’d help out from the inside and cut down the penetration from (Iverson Molinar) off those guys, and they out-shot their percentages tonight, which is what you’re supposed to do in big games.”
Playing against a team with a ton of size and length, Montana struggled to get the ball down low, scoring just 12 points in the paint. In turn, Montana's biggest bright spot came from the 3-point arc, as the Grizzlies connected on nine treys, with six players making at least one.
More than half of Montana's shot attempts and makes (56.3 percent) came from distance.
Junior forward Derrick Carter-Hollinger led Montana with 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting (2-of-2 from deep), his second consecutive game in double figures after doing so just once last year.
“His athleticism is a strength and he knows how to use it,” DeCuire said of Carter-Hollinger. “He gets his hands on some balls, he made open shots. He’s been in the gym a lot and was our brightest star tonight.”
Junior guard Josh Vazquez was also in double figures (10 points on 3-of-6 shooting) while senior forward Mack Anderson totaled eight rebounds.
Montana will have a quick turnaround, traveling to Grand Forks, North Dakota, on Sunday before taking on former Big Sky foe North Dakota on Monday evening.
“Growing up, you don’t always know if you’re tough enough until you get up and get in a fight,” DeCuire said. “For us, it’s early and we just got beat up, and we’re going to find out how we can respond. We’re going to get up and brush off the dirt and fight again on Monday.”