MISSOULA — For the second game in a row the Montana men’s basketball team entered the final eight minutes of a game with a double-digit lead.
The Grizzlies led by 14 against North Dakota on Monday on the road in Grand Forks but were outscored 24-8 in the final eight or so minutes and ultimately fell when Fighting Hawks guard Caleb Nero hit a driving And-1 layup for the go-ahead bucket late. But on Saturday, things went more in favor of the hosting Grizzlies at Dahlberg Arena against Nebraska Omaha.
The visiting Mavericks had a chance to cut a 12-point Montana lead down to 10 with around five minutes left. Instead, the Mavericks missed the a pair of free throws and Montana capitalized and closed the win, 68-47.
While of course it was not exactly the same scenario as Monday, but the way Saturday finished is what Grizzlies head coach Travis DeCuire wants to see from a team that saw its share of close calls in 2020-21.
"I like to see our defense hold up; I like to see us get to the eight minute mark and stretch a game out and we did both of those things," he said. " ... It's two different tales in terms of the story. For us in terms of our growth, our whole season last year the eight minute mark was a big moment for us and we got to show some growth."
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The Grizzlies (2-2) snap a two-game snide and get their first win over a Division I team this season. Omaha falls to 1-3 and remains winless against D-I teams.
Robby Beasley, who entered the game on a bit of a slump missing six of his last seven treys in the previous two outings, drained a catch-and-shoot 3 — his first of the night — and a stop later, Josh Bannan scored and not long after Beasley found Vazquez for a catch-and-shoot trey and a commanding, 58-42 lead with 4:23 left.
Beasley canned another 3 off a kick-out pass from Bannan for the dagger and a 20-point lead that would continue to grow.
Bannan finished with a career-high 24 on 10 of 14 shooting from the field. He added a pair of treys and 12 boards for a double-double. Beasley finished with eight points and three assists while Brandon Whitney, who had a career night on Monday, had 13 points on 4 of 9 shooting from the field against the Mavericks.
DJ strong on D
A lot of what Derrick Carter-Hollinger did Saturday didn't show up in the final stat book.
He finished with a an all-around stat line of seven points, five boards, three assists, a steal and a block in just over 25 minutes on the floor. He had a +26 plus/minus — meaning Montana outscored the Mavericks by 26 in the minutes Carter-Hollinger was on the floor.
The junior forward made all the right rotations on defense and, just as importantly, did so without fouling with none committed. From clean contests from the weak side in rotation, to an emphatic swat that led directly to a bucket in the first half, he was everywhere on defense Saturday.
"He fights for balls, he contests shots," DeCuire said. "His athleticism is definitely an advantage when he is on the floor for us. To be honest, with his energy and effort he maximizes his opportunity when he is out there. You gotta get him subbed out because works himself into exhaustion. If you get five guys doing that you got a really good team."
His effort encapsulated the Grizzlies’ best showing on that end since the record-breaking, season-opening win over NAIA Dickinson State. Montana was flying on defense, playing it’s usual style that fans are accustomed to seeing,
Omaha was held to 16 of 54 shooting for a 29.6% clip from the field and a modest 7 of 15 from deep. Montana opened with a 17-3 and held Omaha scoreless for a large chunk of the early first half behind a 1 for 11 shooting start. At half the Mavericks had shot just 6 of 26 from the field.
Montana won’t get much of a Thanksgiving break. The Grizzlies will play host to the Zootown Classic at Dahlberg Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Montana will open the multi-team event against UC San Diego (4-0) — which beat Sacramento State late Saturday night by double digits — on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.