PORTLAND, Ore. – The Montana men’s basketball team outscored Portland State 18-2 during one stretch of the second half of their Big Sky Conference game Thursday night at the Stott Center.
Unfortunately for the Griz, they trailed by 22 points at the time.
Portland State did just enough to hold off a furious Griz rally and take an 88-79 win that snapped the Grizzlies’ four-game winning streak. Montana, which could have taken over sole control of first place in the Big Sky with the win, fell to 5-2 in league, 10-10 overall. Portland State improved to 4-2, 11-6.
Montana struggled against Portland State’s extended zone defense for the first 30 minutes of the game, coughing the ball up an uncharacteristic 16 times.
“I think it was really more us,” Montana coach Travis DeCuire said. “We weren’t attacking it the right way. There’s a soft spot in the middle of the zone and we got layups when we threw it in the high post. But the first half we probably threw it in there one or two times and dug ourselves a hole. In the second half we got every shot we wanted when we threw it in there.”
The balanced Vikings shot 57 percent from the field on their way to a 71-49 lead with 9:16 to play. They began the second half with a 21-5 burst keyed by 3-pointers from Calaen Robinson, De’Sean Parsons and Bryce Canda. Another trey by Canda and one from Deontae North gave the Vikings their first 22-point lead at 67-45.
“They made shots,” DeCuire said. “I don’t know how many consecutive 3-pointers they made, but they made shots and we didn’t. We missed layups, they make threes. It kind of snowballed pretty quick. Then we changed up our defense a little bit in the zone and slowed them down, then they hit a couple of threes again. We made some adjustments in our man and that got us back in the game.”
Ahmaad Rorie and Fabijan Krslovic keyed that 18-2 run that cut the gap to 73-67 with 3:11 to play. Rorie led the Griz with 29 points and Krslovic set a career high for the second straight game with 24.
“Containing penetration,” DeCuire said, explaining what the Griz did to slow the Vikings down. “We took the ball screen away from them and kept them out of the paint, forced some turnovers on some charges, things like that. We started doing the right things. That was the one short stretch we had where we were doing all the right things on defense. If we do that , we’re a good team. The problem was we only did it for a short stretch. Other than that we gave up 75 percent in the second half.”
The Griz, though, wasted several opportunities down the stretch. Krslovic was fouled on an inside bucket that made it 73-67, but missed the free throw. Jack Lopez got the offensive rebound, but another shot by Krslovic was blocked.
Zach Gengler nailed a 3-pointer at the other end for a 76-67 lead.
Any chance the Griz had at a miracle win probably ended when Michael Oguine came up with a steal, but had his dunk attempt blocked at the other end. A Parsons free throw gave the Vikings a 77-67 lead with 1:56 to play.
“We had the steal and we could’ve cut it to six,” DeCuire said. “We come down and we’re thinking dunk instead of laying it up, then they go down and make a three and it’s back to 11. That to me was a turning point of our momentum.”
Gengler and Robinson led five Vikings in double figures with 15 points apiece.
Neither team led by more than four points in a back-and-forth first half that ended with the Vikings on top 37-34, their biggest lead of the half.
Montana’s largest lead of the half came at 6-2 on a couple of buckets by Rorie and another by Oguine.
Robinson, who had a dozen points by halftime, gave the Vikings a 27-24 lead on a 3-pointer with 8:37 to play before halftime.
But Rorie, who had to play conservative after picking up his second foul with 12:25 still to play in the half, answered with a layup and Krslovic put the Griz on top 28-27. Krslovic had 10 points by intermission.
Oguine’s layup put the Griz up 30-27, but a turnover led to a run-out slam by Robinson to make it a one-point game.
The Griz led 34-32 on an inside move by Krslovic, but the Vikings scored the final five points of the half.
NOTES: Montana owned a 40-33 rebounding edge, led by Oguine who finished with 10 points and 10 boards. … Portland State, third in the nation in steals, had eight; Montana swiped nine. … The Vikings finished shooting 54 percent from the field. The Griz shot 46 percent, but just 23 percent from 3-point range.