Things seemed to come much too easily way too early for Washington State against Montana Wednesday night.
And in the end, the Cougars were forced to step back and take a couple of deep breaths and hard swallows before finally subduing the remarkably stubborn and resilient Grizzlies 98-87 in front of a Friel Court crowd of 4,059.
Junior point guard Donminic Ellison scored 24 points and his backcourt running mates, Isaac Fontaine and Shamon Antrum, added 21 and 20 as WSU bounced back from Saturday night’s disappointing 77-75 loss to Syracuse and raised its overall record to 4-1.
Montana, a preseason favorite in the Big Sky Conference, slipped to 6-2 despite 17 points from senior guard Kirk Walker and 15 each from front-liners Chris Spoja and Shawn Samuelson.
“It might have looked easy, but it wasn’t,” said Fontaine, who scored 17 in the first half in leading WSU to an early 33-13 lead and a 55-42 halftime advantage. “We were up by 20 at some points in the game, but it didn’t seem like we were running away with it. They just kept fighting and fighting and coming back. It was a real hard-fought game.”
The 71 points WSU got from its backcourt offset one of the least productive performances of Mark Hendrickson’s otherwise-distinguished career. He had six points on 0-for-3 shooting.
The 6-9 senior center pulled down nine rebounds, but failed to score in double figures for the first time in 18 games.
Afterward, Hendrickson approached Montana coach Blaine Taylor and asked him not to tell Pacific-10 Conference coaches how he defended him.
“We ran four different defenders at him during the course of the game,” Taylor explained, “and I thought they all did a great job.”
Hendrickson, who came in averaging 17.5 points per game, played only 9 minutes in the first half after picking up two early fouls.
“He wasn’t in it at all, it didn’t seem like,” WSU coach Kevin Eastman said. “But I think all of us are entitled to one off day throughout our careers, and I don’t think you’ll see that again from Mark.”
Montana, which played without 6-10 center Brent Smith, who was ill, withstood WSU’s lightning start and used a 10-point run early in the second half to cut the Cougars’ lead to 63-58. But then Ellison drilled a 3- pointer to ignite an 18-3 Cougar spurt that pretty much settled the issue.
The Grizzlies, behind a pesky halfcourt trapping defense, closed within 94-85 with just less than a minute left, but WSU made 10 consecutive free throws in the final 4 minutes.
Both teams shot the ball exceptionally well, thanks, in part, to the fast pace that produced numerous fas-break baskets for both teams. The only production WSU got
from its frontcourt came from sophomore Carlos Daniel, who finished with a career-high 15 points and grabbed four rebounds. Junior Tavares Mack was held to seven points and two rebounds and once again struggled with his inside shot.
Washington St. 98, Montana 87
Spoja 6-10 2-2 15, Samuelson 7-14 1-4 15, Covill 2-3 0-0 4, Walker 6-10 1-2 17, Belnap 3-10 0-0 8, Bowie 1-2 0-0 2, Dade 0-0 0-0 0. Seidensticker 0-0 2-2 2, Smith 5-11 3-4 13, Dick 4-4 3-5 11. Totals 34-64 12-19 87.
WASHINGTON ST. (4-1)
Hendrickson 0-3 6-8 6, Fontaine 6-12 6-6 21, Mack 3-6 1-2 7, Antrum 6-10 4-5 20, Ellison 8-14 4-4 24, Jackson 0-1 1-2 1, Daniel 7-8 1-1 15, Scott 2-3 0-0 4, Johnson 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 32-58 23-28 98.
Halftime-Washington St. 55, Montana 42. 3-Point goals-Montana 7-17 (Walker 4-8, Belnap 2-6, Spoja 1-2, Samuelson 0-1), Washington St. 11-16 (Antrum 4-6, Ellison 4-6, Fontaine 3-3, Scott 0-1). Fouled out-Montana, Covill. Rebounds-Montana 30 (Samuelson 8), Washington St. 31 (Fontaine 11). Assists-Montana 16 (Spoja 5), Washington St. 20 (Fontaine 7). Total fouls-Montana 23, Washington St. 17. A-9,090.
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