MOSCOW, Idaho – For the final 5 minutes of their 69-51 victory against Idaho on Saturday night, the Montana Grizzlies played like the much more talented and experienced team that they are.
Don’t let the final score fool you, though. This game was a dogfight.
The Vandals trailed by five points with less than 7 minutes remaining at Cowan Spectrum before their defensive rebounding and ball security betrayed them and Montana’s seniors took over.
The Griz, picked in the preseason to repeat as Big Sky Conference champions, finished the game on a 20-5 run and “just out-toughed us” in the closing minutes, Idaho coach Don Verlin said.
“Obviously, they’re a good team, a veteran team, and they’re well coached,” Verlin added. “But I thought we had the game right where we wanted to have it.”
Idaho’s 11th-year coach was referring to the moments after Trevon Allen came off a screen, dribble-faked Montana’s Bobby Moorehead – prompting the defender to trip over Allen’s feet and fall to the court – and hit an 18-foot jumper to slice UM’s lead to 49-46.
Allen’s highlight play came with 9:19 left and gave him 24 points.
But that was his last basket of the night and the Vandals (4-13, 1-5 Big Sky) went more than 7 minutes without scoring.
“Going down the stretch, with them being a veteran team, they basically kind of kicked into that last gear,” Allen said. “… They understood, I think, what it took to finish a game like that. And it’s something we’ve got to work on. With time, it’s something we’ll understand.”
Montana (12-6, 5-2) ratcheted up its defensive pressure at the end, forcing the young Vandals into three turnovers in four possessions. UM also got clutch baskets – and huge offensive rebounds – from big man Jamar Akoh and guard Michael Oguine down the stretch.
“The bottom line is when they imposed their will, we didn’t respond,” Verlin said.
This game probably shouldn’t have been as close it was for as long as it was. The Griz returned four starters and 85 percent of their scoring from last year’s NCAA Tournament team. The Vandals, meanwhile, lost 95 percent of their scoring and play 10 sophomores and freshmen.
Allen, a junior guard and Idaho’s only healthy upperclassman, carried the Vandals for long stretches. He connected on 16 straight points for UI to end the first half and start the second. Before halftime, he went on a 9-0 run by himself to will the Vandals back from a 13-point deficit.
But Idaho had just one other player, Jordan Rodriguez, reach double figures and it went 9 minutes without a field goal to close the game until a 3-pointer from Losini Kamara with 16 seconds left.
The Vandals’ offensive futility was compounded by their inability to get stops or rebounds on the defensive end. The Griz outrebounded Idaho 43-32 and finished with 11 more shots from the field because of their 15 offensive rebounds.
“At the end of the day, they beat us up on the boards,” said Verlin, who admitted that unlike most of his previous UI teams this one is not good at rebounding. “We just weren’t physical enough.”
Montana got 20 points from senior guard Ahmaad Rorie.
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