SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The Montana men’s basketball team will have some soul searching to do when it returns to Missoula.
The Griz gave up a season high in points for the second straight game in a 92-83 loss to Sacramento State on Saturday night at the Hornets Nest.
Did the Griz run into two hot-shooting teams in Portland State and the Hornets? Or did Montana fail to defend well enough to win?
No matter the answer, the Griz fell to 5-3 in league games, 10-11 overall and dropped from second to fourth place in the league standings. Sac State improved to 3-4, 6-12.
“As a group, as a family, we have some kinks to work out,” Griz coach Travis DeCuire said. “You know me, I keep it close to the vest and keep family business in the family. As a team we have a lot of stuff we need to sort out. We’ll have a nice meeting on the way home and come back and be fired up to get back on the floor. We’ll be fine.”
The Griz came up empty on a league road swing for the first time under third-year coach Travis DeCuire.
“I asked them why, what and how,” DeCuire said of his postgame chat with the team. “We’ve been flat two games in a row. Our offense has been fine, but our defensive enthusiasm is down. Our effort has not been good enough. We have not competed well enough on the defensive end. Some of it is guys who aren’t great shooters jump up and make shots. We need to be a stronger basketball team. I think we’ve been passive defensively.”
Another question to be answered is where was senior guard Walter Wright in the first half? Wright didn’t enter the game until 16:36 and finished scoreless in 7 minutes of play.
“We looked to get him some reps in the second half, but he wasn’t really clicking,” said DeCuire, who added that Wright would be fine. “Sayeed (Pridgett) was playing really well on that first rotation, Mario (Dunn) played well in that first rotation too.”
The Hornets, who came into the game averaging a league-low 5.4 3-pointers a game, were 9 for 17 from beyond the arc, while Montana connected on just 5 of 17 attempts. Nick Hornsby led the way for Sac State with 25 points. Center Eric Stuteville, averaging 9.9 points a game, added 18, as did guard Marcus Graves.
“The biggest thing was the balance with four guys in double figures,” Sac State coach Brian Katz said. “We’ve just had trouble getting everybody to play well at one time. For the first time maybe all year we did it. We’ve always had two of those guys going, but when you get three or four going you become a little harder to beat.”
All those stats offset a stellar performance from freshman Sayeed Pridgett. The Oakland, California, native scored a career-high 28 points playing in front of a large group of friends and family.
“It doesn’t hurt to have people from home,” DeCuire said. “His confidence was down a little bit. As a freshman you hit that low and you need to snap out of it. It was good to see him do that. We’ve needed it.”
The Hornets were uncharacteristically hot from 3-point range in the first half while building a 41-34 lead. Sac State hit six in the first 20 minutes and led by as many 13 points on a 15-foot jumper by Graves.
“We’ve seen it coming,” Katz said. “In the preseason we couldn’t hit anything; we were 25 percent (from three). I think we’re up to 35 percent, so we’re moving up the ladder. We’ve seen it coming along little by little, but that was a big part in the win.”
After the Hornets built that 41-28 edge, the Griz scored the final six points of the half to get back in the game. Krslovic had a layup, Jack Lopez banked in a free-throw-line jumper and Jared Samuelson followed up a miss by Ahmaad Rorie.
If not for the 10 first-half points by Pridgett, the Griz would have been in a deeper hole.
Much like at Portland State on Thursday, the Griz allowed the Hornets to restore a double-digit lead in the first few minutes of the second half. A Hornsby trey gave Sac a 61-48 lead with 13:44 to play.
And much like against the Vikings, the Griz rallied to get back into the game. Michael Oguine’s 3-pointer cut the gap to 73-70 with 4:08 to play.
Two free throws by Rorie, who finished with 22 points, kept the Griz within 75-72. But a three-point play by Stuteville and a high-arcing jumper made it 80-72. Pridgett answered with a drive for a bucket, but Hornsby got a hoop and harm to put Sac up 83-74 with 1:47 to play. It was academic from there.