Montana’s Brent Smith scored six of his 13 points in overtime and teammate J.R. Camel hit several tough shots at crucial moments Saturday night as the Grizzlies handed Gonzaga University a rare 67-63 Martin Centre loss.
The non-conference defeat, which evened GU’s record at 4-4, was only the fourth home loss for the Bulldogs in 58 games - a fact that did not go unnoticed or unmentioned by Montana coach Blaine Taylor.
“Some people might hide from that,” Taylor said of GU’s home-court dominance after watching his team raise its record to 5-4 and send most of those in the noisy crowd of 3,257 away disappointed, “but we embraced it and took it as a challenge.
“We talked a lot about it with our kids and told them how much it would mean and how many good things you’d have to do to come over here and win.”
The Grizzlies, a preseason favorite to win the Big Sky Conference, used a suffocating half-court trapping defense and relentless energy at both ends of the court to play through the crowd noise and a gruesome night at the foul line.
Montana made only 12 of 26 free throws, but compensated by forcing GU into 19 turnovers, including a couple in the extra period.
Smith, a 6-foot-10 senior center, took advantage of the absence of Bulldogs freshman Axel Dench to power inside for three baskets in overtime. And Camel, a 6-2 sophomore guard, hit a difficult pull-up jumper in the lane and a pair of free throws in the final 30 seconds to snuff out any GU comeback hopes.
Dench, who scored a career-high 17 points in Tuesday night’s 91-76 win over Montana State, wasn’t even in the game when Smith decided it. He was riding the pine next to coach Dan Fitzgerald after missing all eight shots he tried.
“I thought we broke down in the interior,” said Fitzgerald, who tried to combat Smith with 6-8 Bakari Hendrix and 6-11 Jeremy Eaton. “It was a case of a bigger body against a smaller body, because we didn’t have Axel in there.”
About Camel, who finished with a game-high 18 points, Fitzgerald said, “he hit a lot of tough shots, including that last one. We did a good job defending on that, but he just hit a tough shot. And we couldn’t buy one down the stretch, even though we had some pretty darn good looks.”
The Bulldogs had the ball and a chance to win near the end of regulation, after Camel had tied it at 57 with a difficult turnaround jumper with 38 seconds left.
But with the shot clock running down, Hendrix missed a well-contested jump shot in the lane and time ran out before GU could launch another shot.
Hendrix finished with 13 points and Lorenzo Rollins added 18 for the Bulldogs, who shot only 31.9 percent (23 of 72) from the field.
“I was proud of our effort,” Fitzgerald said, “but I thought our inexperience really showed against a good team. It’s always going to be tough when you’re playing three freshmen down the stretch.
“We just have to maintain our confidence and find ways to win games like this. This was a tough loss.”
Taylor said he was pleased with the way his team responded in overtime.
“When nip-and-tuck time came, I thought we did a good job of stepping up and making plays,” he said.
Montana 67, Gonzaga 63 (OT)
Montana (5-4) - Walker 3-8 0-0 8, Camel 7-13 4-4 18, Smith 6-8 1-7 13, Dade 4-8 1-5 10, Spoja 0-3 3-4 3, Bowie 0-1 0-0 0, Warhank 0-0 0-0 0, Henry 0-0 0-0 0, Seidensticker 0-1 1-2 1, Dick 5-6 0-0 10, Olson 1-2 2-4 2. Totals 26-50 12-26 67.
Gonzaga (4-4) - Williams 0-1 0-0 0, Santangelo 4-16 0-1 9, Hendrix 6-13 2-4 14, Leasure 2-4 0-0 5, Rollins 5-17 4-4 18, Nemeth 0-0 0-0 0, Floyd 0-0 0-0 0, Frahm 2-7, 3-4 8, Dench 0-8 0-0 0, Eaton 4-6 1-3 9, Griffin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-72 10-16 63.
Halftime-Montana 32, Gonzaga 30. 3-Point goals-Montana 3-5 (Walker 2-3, Dade 1-1, Seidensticker 0-1), Gonzaga 7-21 (Williams 0-1, Santangelo 1-5, Leasure 1-1, Rollins 4-10, Frahm 1-4). Fouled out-None. Rebounds-Montana 35 (Bowie, Olson 5), Gonzaga 49 (Frahm, Hendrix 8). Assists-Montana 14 (Camel 5), Gonzaga 16 (Santangelo 5). Total fouls-Montana 20, Gonzaga 18. A-3,257.
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