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Montana men fall to conference leader Weber State

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Posted at 8:13 AM, Feb 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-04 10:13:22-05

(Editor's note: University of Montana press release)

OGDEN, Utah—Montana proved it can compete with the best of the best in the Big Sky Conference on Thursday night, taking first-place Weber State to the wire on the road. But the Grizzlies couldn't close out the victory, falling to the Wildcats, 80-75.

The loss snapped Montana's four-game winning streak. Weber State, meanwhile, is now 8-0 since losing to Montana on Jan. 1 in Missoula, the Wildcats' only league loss of the season.

The Grizzlies took an 18-17 lead midway through the first half on a Cameron Parker driving layup and led for 20 of the game's next 21 minutes, before the Wildcats regained the lead, 56-55, with 10:26 to play in the game.

The game – which featured 14 tie scores and 11 lead changes, with neither team ever leading by more than six points – was back and forth from that point forward.

"Tough one to swallow," head coach Travis DeCuire said. "We played our hearts out. There's no reason to question our effort or energy. We executed and defended very well and had long stretches where they couldn't get what they wanted.

"I thought we played well enough to win, but unfortunately we didn't."

The Grizzlies' final lead came at 62-60 with 8 minutes to play. The two teams were then knotted at 67-67 following a pair of Robby Beasley III  free throws, but the Grizzlies went cold after that, making just one field goal over a 6-plus-minute stretch (1-of-7 shooting with two turnovers) that allowed the home team to push its lead to a game-high six points, 73-67.

Montana answered, trimming the score to 75-73 with 47.7 seconds to play, but the Wildcats were bailed out on the other end as Montana was whistled for a foul.

"We were defending well and getting good shots, but we couldn't keep them off the free-throw line," DeCuire said. "We took away everything they had except for the free-throw line."

Montana held the Big Sky's top scoring offense below its shooting (.434) and 3-point shooting (.333) percentages, but Weber State made the most of its trips to the foul line, connecting on 26 of 29 attempts.

Koby McEwen alone took 20 free throws (19-of-20), a large part of his 32-point performance.

For the Grizzlies, five players were in double figures, led by sophomore Josh Bannan, who again proved to be one of the league's top players. The Aussie recorded his seventh double-double of the season (17 points, 11 rebounds) and has now been in double figures for scoring in nine consecutive games.

Beasley added 16 points and two steals while fellow sophomore Brandon Whitney added 13 points, five rebounds and four assists. Junior Lonnell Martin Jr. scored 11 points, including three made 3-pointers, while senior Cameron Parker added 10.

Montana shot .481 from the floor, the Grizzlies' first loss of the season when out-shooting its opponent. Montana also shot a better clip from deep (.412) and out-rebounded the Wildcats, but made eight fewer free throws and forced just eight turnovers.

Montana used a 13-2 run in the first half that started with seven consecutive points from Bannan, which turned a 15-9 deficit into a 22-17 advantage. Montana held Weber State to .391 shooting in the opening half, including two stretches of more than 4 minutes without a point. The Wildcats made just nine field goals in the opening stanza, with six coming from long range. The Grizzlies made adjustments in the second half, limiting Weber State to 2-of-10 shooting from deep.

After holding a two-point lead at the intermission, Montana scored first in the second half and didn't face its first deficit until a Dillon Jones pull-up jumper with 10:26 to play.

The Grizzlies had previously won eight of their past 11 meetings with Weber State, including last year's quarterfinal matchup in the Big Sky tournament. Montana, which is still 8-3 in league play and sitting near the top of the standings, will now travel to Pocatello, Idaho, to face last-place Idaho State on Saturday night (6 p.m.).

"Our guys put a lot of pressure on themselves to win this game, so they're down a bit in the locker room," DeCuire said. "I told them, 'The best way to get this taste out of your mouths is to take it out on your next opponent'"