Celebrate for Speltz column

The Montana Grizzlies celebrate their second-in-a-row Big Sky Conference men's basketball tournament title last Saturday in Boise, Idaho. Dorsey, pictured on the far left wearing a hat, was a hero in the title game with four critical 3-point goals.

MISSOULA — It reminded me of a bad date in high school.

It started off on the wrong foot and grew increasingly more boring. By the time Montana's one-and-done night in the NCAA men's basketball tournament was over Thursday, this columnist needed to walk his dog to blow off steam.

Michigan 74, Montana 55. Hoopdie-freaking-do.

It's all water under the bridge now. Most Grizzly fans will tell you they're proud of how well their injury-depleted team performed. Others wonder if a win in the Big Dance will ever happen again.

Mark me down as Charlie Brown. A naïve egghead who time after time gets his hopes up when the Grizzlies or Lady Griz reach the NCAA Tournament, only to have Lucy pull the football away just as he's about to kick it. Since starting at the Missoulian in 2007, it's happened nine times.

Still, I'll always be grateful for Maroon-colored March Madness. And you can count me among the truly blessed for being able to watch Montana's run to a Big Sky Conference tourney title from courtside in Boise, Idaho.

My lasting memory of the Grizzlies has nothing to do with the stars of the team. It centers around a moment late in Montana's win over Eastern Washington last Saturday in the finals of the Big Sky tourney.

For me, no two players on the team gave more of themselves than Timmy Falls and Donaven Dorsey. And when crunch time came in the biggest game of the season, both behaved like men.

It's a story of faith and selflessness. A testament to what is possible when players believe in team over individual success. I'd imagine it's hard as hell to buy into as a Division I athlete in your early 20s.

To review, Dorsey and Falls took turns starting for the Grizzlies after post Jamar Akoh was lost to an injury in early February. Dorsey started eight games before losing his spot to Falls as Montana coach Travis DeCuire went to a small-ball strategy.

DeCuire's tinkering worked exceptionally well in the days leading up to the Big Sky title game. Then the Grizzlies hit a snag against an imposing Eastern Washington team in the championship.

Montana spotted the Eagles a 12-point lead early. After that the Grizzlies spun their wheels for a while, with tournament MVP Ahmaad Rorie nowhere to be found on the score sheet.

Then something special happened with Montana trailing by 10 and just over 5 minutes left in the first half. Dorsey came off the bench and hit a 3-ball. Then he hit another, 46 seconds later.

Montana was back in it. The funk was over. All thanks to a young man who lost his starting job but never lost confidence in himself or trust in the decisions of his coach. 

For the record, Dorsey, who had scored just 10 points in the three games leading up to the Big Sky final, pulled his team out of the fire in the championship with four 3-pointers. Meanwhile, Falls, who sat for nine important minutes in the second half of that final, chose to lead the cheers from the bench rather than sulking.

You gotta love those guys. Both of them.

"Commitment to success is very difficult to get people to buy into because you're never 100 percent sure you'll reach that ultimate goal," DeCuire said after the game, his voice so hoarse you could hardly hear him. " ... I'm proud to be surrounded by such special gentlemen that I have on my team and an incredible staff that I have and how much they've all committed to what my dream has been for this group."

When DeCuire pounded on Dorsey's chest with just under 8 minutes left and their team in front by eight points, it was more than happy celebration stuff. It was one of those moments in Grizzly lore you never forget.

Perhaps then it was poetic justice that, on Montana's disappointing Thursday, Falls and Dorsey both showed up against Michigan. Falls finished with 10 points and three rebounds and Dorsey had the best shooting night on the team, hitting two triples and 3 of 4 shots overall for eight points.

Montana didn't reach its ultimate goal. That's a shame because the team loses five seniors, including Dorsey (although Dorsey might appeal for another season of eligibility).

But for all the misfortune the Grizzlies encountered this winter, you have to be impressed with what they accomplished.

"If I could tell you every single thing we've been through, you would not believe to see this team where they're at," DeCuire said after last Saturday's title-clinching win.

"It's about the people."

Amen, Coach.

Bill Speltz is the Deputy Sports Editor of the Missoulian. Email him at bill.speltz@missoulian.com or bill.speltz@406mtsports.com.

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