MISSOULA — Timmy Falls knocked down the wide-open 3-pointer from the top of the arc.
The Montana Grizzlies' true freshman headed down to the defensive end, got a steal, raced down the court and scored a layup as he drew a foul. He converted the free throw, and the Griz stretched their two-point lead into an eight-point advantage in a 19-second span late in the first half.
Falls tied his career-high with 14 points, nine of which came during a 16-2 run to close the first half after a sloppy opening 15 minutes by both teams. With a season-high 43 points from their bench, the Griz led by 16 at the break and upped their lead to 30 points in the second half as they clobbered the Montana State Bobcats, 90-63, on Saturday at Dahlberg Arena.
"Timmy's got a big heart, no fear" Griz head coach Travis DeCuire said. "I think he put himself in all the right spots. ... I just thought that he was aggressive, and when the opportunity presented itself, he took advantage of it."
The Griz clinched a top-three seed in the Big Sky Conference tournament with their win in front of a sold-out crowd of 7,256 fans, the largest at Dahlberg Arena since 2011. They improved to 14-2 in league play and hold a two-game lead over both Idaho and Weber State.
The win clinched at least a share of the league crown. It also gave the Griz their first-ever series lead over the Cats, 149-148.
In addition to Falls' 14 points off the bench, wing Sayeed Pridgett added 14 points, all in the second half, while forward Karl Nicholas tallied 13 points. The trio played 20 or more minutes apiece because starters got into foul trouble, and were the Grizzlies' top three scorers, along with Rorie's 13 points.
The Griz finished with a 25-point edge over the Cats in bench scoring, 43-18, a season high.
"Michael (Oguine) and Ahmaad didn't make a 3(-pointer), and we kind of kept them off balance," Montana State head coach Brian Fish said, "but their depth and their ability to score ... I thought Sayeed and Karl played really well for them today, gave them a big boost."
Despite Griz forward Jamar Akoh fouling out in 16 minutes, the Griz finished with a 46-39 rebounding edge and a 46-16 advantage in points in the paint. Akoh fouled out on a phantom call when Harald Frey slipped with no contact, and DeCuire said it was unfortunate Akoh was never able to get going.
"But when he doesn't play well or play big minutes, doesn't get big numbers, and we're still able to put the points on the board that we put on and out-rebound an opponent, it's a sign of what we have in our depth and you feel good about it," DeCuire said.
Montana State's Tyler Hall was limited to 11 points on 2-of-16 shooting while being guarded by Bobby Moorehead and Rorie. Harald Frey scored 14 points to pace Montana State, while Keljin Blevins added 12 points.
With an early frenetic pace because of turnovers, the Griz attacked the paint and rattled off an 8-0 run after the Cats scored the first basket of the game. Montana State missed seven consecutive shots until Zach Green scored on a jumper to end a scoreless drought of 5:03.
The Griz built a 17-6 lead and held the Cats without any points for 6:19. Frey ended the drought by making a pair of free throws with 7:15 left in the half. That started a 12-4 run in which he scored seven points, his last basket cutting the Grizzlies’ lead to 21-19 with 3:53 left in the half.
Falls scored eight consecutive Montana points and was key in the 16-2 run over the final 3:33 of the half with Oguine and Akoh on the bench with two and three fouls, respectively. The Griz took a 37-21 lead into the locker room.
The Bobcats shot 25 percent (7 of 28) in the first half and 31.3 percent (19 of 61) in the game.
"They turned it up there a little bit," Fish said of the run. "Without watching the film, I can't fault our guys for the shots we were getting. I liked the looks we got, I liked the effort we were playing with. Credit them for their defense. We were fighting our tails off, and for whatever reason, we couldn't stick the ball in the hole tonight."
Akoh scored four points in the opening 90 seconds of the second half after he was limited to two points in the first half. Rorie, who missed all five shot attempts in the first half, hit his first two shots in the second half, his first one giving the Griz their first 20-point lead, 41-21.
They used an 8-0 run to push their lead to 29 points, 64-35. It included two Pridgett layups, a Nicholas dunk and a Moorehead fast break dunk.
The Cats didn’t get any closer than 23 points, 64-41, with 8:54 remaining.
Montana made it 30 points, 88-58, on a Nicholas dunk with 50 seconds left.