MISSOULA – All it took was two free throws.
After 39 minutes and 55 seconds of play between the Montana and Northern Colorado men's basketball teams on Monday night, UNC senior Jordan Davis was fouled driving to the basket with five seconds remaining. He knocked down both of his free throw attempts and the Bears walked away with a 74-72 victory at Dahlberg Arena.
Redshirt senior Ahmaad Rorie took the ball coast-to-coast in the final possession, but his desperation three was no good, sending Northern Colorado into jubilation.
The loss snapped a 10-game winning streak for the Griz.
Davis led all scorers with 23 points, bringing the second-place Bears (18-9, 12-4) within one game of the Grizzlies (20-7, 13-3) in the Big Sky Conference standings.
“We knew they were going to bring it,” Montana coach Travis DeCuire said. “They’re a team that’s very confident. They play good ball and are disciplined. They know their roles and they’re a phenomenal basketball team.”
Montana started quickly in Monday’s contest but Northern Colorado was quick to respond after the first media timeout. UM led 8-2 early but the Bears responded with a 12-3 run to recover from their slow start. UNC closed the half on a 12-5 run to take a 35-32 lead into intermission.
“I feel like we kind of got complacent,” Rorie said. “We’ve been on a long streak and we just weren’t playing real hard. Stuff wasn’t going our way. They were taking the ball from us and kind of punking us a little bit in that half and we didn’t really respond that good until the second half.”
“They were getting layups uncontested and there were quite a few times when they drove and we were there and we didn’t even leave the floor and contest the shot,” DeCuire added. “That comes down to sense of urgency and wanting to win every possession. I just don’t think we played that way today.”
With the game tied 41-41, Montana junior Sayeed Pridgett scored on a layup five minutes into the half, but Northern Colorado took over from there. The Bears would go on an 18-4 run after Pridgett’s basket, capped by a pair of baskets from Davis off of turnovers, to take a 59-47 lead with 10:24 to play.
“That’s something we talk to our kids a lot is how are you going to respond?” Northern Colorado coach Jeff Linder said. “We used a few boxing analogies for this game. We knew they were going to come out and try to throw a big punch.”
From there, Montana mounted a serious comeback and began knocking down big baskets. Redshirt senior Donaven Dorsey and Rorie each immediately answered with back-to-back 3-pointers. The Grizzlies made it a one-possession game at 64-61 with 7:02 to go, but Davis added another three in response.
Dorsey and Rorie took over for Montana in the second half. After Davis hit a free throw with 2:04 to play, Dorsey drilled his third three of the second half to tie it 70-70. All of Dorsey’s second-half threes came after Montana trailed by 12.
“The offensive sense of urgency (was back) but defensively we still weren’t scrapping the way we needed,” DeCuire said. “We didn’t get rebounds we needed and we just didn’t get stops.”
UNC freshman Sam Masten followed that with a layup as the shot clock sounded to put the Bears up two again. Pridgett was then fouled and made one of two free throws.
After UNC missed a shot on its offensive end, Montana came back and Dorsey missed a layup but senior Michael Oguine grabbed the offensive rebound and UM called timeout with 19.4 seconds to go. Out of the break, Pridgett missed a layup, followed by a putback miss from Oguine, but Pridgett grabbed the board and was fouled. Again, he made one of two attempts at the line to tie it 72-72.
All of that set up Davis’ free throws to win the game.
Rorie led Montana with 22 points, Dorsey added 20 and Pridgett tallied 17. Rorie added seven rebounds and six assists as well. The Grizzlies shot 49.1 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from three. Free throw shooting hurt the Griz though who went 9 for 17 from the line.
“They just played harder than us. They definitely wanted it more than us and we have to come back and just make sure we’re ready to go for Saturday,” Rorie said. “All credit to them. They wanted it more so just have to bounce back.”
UNC finished shooting 52.8 percent from the field and 35 percent from deep. The Bears bench outscored UM’s 20 to 2.
“I thought our guys had a great mindset. We knew that within the game they were going to have some moments where we were going to have to find out what we’re made of,” Linder said. “Our guys responded every time they made a run and found a way to get the necessary stops down the stretch to win the game. Credit to those kids in the locker room.”
Notes: For the fifth straight game, Montana was without redshirt senior Jamar Akoh. The Grizzlies still won the rebounding battle 35 to 29. Oguine led UM with 10 rebounds.