Courtesy: Montana Sports Information
There's no place like home.
The Montana Grizzlies returned to their home court for the first time in nearly three weeks and came away with a crucial 75-69 victory over the Milwaukee Panthers (3-5) on Saturday to right the ship after a tough road stretch.
The win puts Montana at 2-6 on the season and provides players, coaches and fans alike some validation for the strong performances the team has put in during the most difficult nonconference schedule in program history.
After trailing by one at the break then building a nine-point lead early in the second half, the Griz held off a late 8-0 run by the Panthers and survived a nearly seven-minute stretch without making a field goal to come away victorious.
"The biggest area for us tonight was our defense," said head coach Travis DeCuire. "I thought from the first half to the second half we did an incredible job keeping guys in front of us.
"That's a well-coached basketball team. Sometimes the best thing you can do defensively is to make them defend. We attacked, pushed the ball, pushed the pace and subbed a lot in the first half. Then we got to the second half, and they had to get some of their guys a break."
Ahmaad Rorie tied his career high with 21 points to lead all scorers as Montana finished with three players scoring in double figures.
Senior guard Mario Dunn made a huge impact, going a perfect 4-4 on three-pointers for 12 points, providing a spark off the bench for the Griz - a bench that put in a total of 32 points.
"I thought the guys off the bench were incredible," added DeCuire, who also received 13 points from Wright off the bench and a crucial three-pointer from Bobby Moorhead as well.
Fabijan Krslovic pulled down a career-high 13 rebounds in an outstanding performance from the junior forward, as the Montana defense forced 12 turnovers from the Panthers.
"He's been phenomenal on the glass no matter who we've been playing, even against some of the bigger teams," said DeCuire of Krslovic. "That's been huge because we were concerned about rebounds. Then having our guards rebounding as well as they are is huge too."
Montana pushed the tempo of the game from the onset, with DeCuire starting perhaps his most aggressive lineup with Michael Oguine and Sayeed Pridgett getting the go-ahead in place of Wright and Moorehead.
But Milwaukee shot 8-of-15 from three-point land in the first half to run out to a 38-37 lead at the halftime break after a back-and-forth opening period that saw the Griz shoot 57 percent from the field.
Needing a second-half comeback, Montana came out of the lockers and ran up a nine-point lead thanks to more stifling defense and 23 points from Walter Wright and Ahmaad Rorie combined after the break.
With Montana up 69-60, the shots stopped falling for the Griz as UM went on a nearly seven-minute stretch without scoring a field goal. The Panthers then started chipping away at the UM lead, going on an 8-0 run in the closing minutes.
Montana kept it's calm, however, and Oguine sealed the win for the Griz, driving the lane and getting a floating layup to fall while collecting the foul to put UM up 73-68 with 26 seconds to play.
"I think the big thing for us was we kept defending. They got some offensive rebounds, and it was taking them two shot clocks to get a basket. So, we were doing a good job of defending during that stretch when we just weren't making shots," added DeCuire.
The Griz finished the game shooting 50 percent from the floor, just the second time this season they have hit that mark (the other against NC State), and shot 47 percent from behind the arc, the team's best percentage to date.
Montana returns to action at Dahlberg Arena on Wednesday, Dec. 7 when UM hosts San Jose State out of the Mountain West Conference in 7 p.m. tipoff.
The Spartans are coming off a road trip in late November to the Palouse, where they picked up a pair of road wins against Idaho and Washington State.