RENO, Nevada (AP) — Three straight nights, three consecutive comebacks and the Montana Grizzlies are Big Sky Conference champions and heading to the NCAA Tournament.
Michael Oguine scored 21 points and top-seeded Montana rallied to an 82-65 victory over Eastern Washington in the Big Sky title game on Saturday night.
The Grizzlies trailed 40-29 at halftime, but outscored the Eagles 53-25 in the second half, spurred by an unrelenting defense that had 18 stops in 19 possessions in one extended stretch.
“You saw a group slow down a very explosive offensive team,” Montana coach Travis DeCuire said. “For us to hold them to 36 percent in the second half and outscore them by 26 points, that’s defense.”
Oguine, the tournament’s MVP, had only 3 points in the first half, but said the defense helped turn his game around.
“Defense is contagious,” he said. “(My teammates) started getting stops and I started to get back in my rhythm.”
The Eagles led for much of the first half and went ahead 50-43 after a 3-pointer by Mason Peatling with 14:30 left. The Grizzlies scored the next 11-points as part of a 25-8 run that put them up 75-58 with 2:30 remaining. Oguine scored 15 of the 25 points in the stretch.
Ahmaad Rorie had 15 points, Bobby Morehead scored 12 and Fabijan Krslovic had 11 points and 10 rebounds for Montana (26-7), which is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years.
Montana hit 17 of its 27 shots (63 percent) in the second half, including 6 of 12 3-pointers.
Jacob Davison had 16 points and Bogdan Bliznyuk and Pleating scored 15 each to lead Eastern Washington (20-14).
The third-seeded Eagles hit 53 percent of their shots in the first half (16 of 30), but struggled from the field in the second half, hitting only 5 of 15 shots, including 1 of 7 3-pointers.
14 seed Griz will now take on 3 seed Michigan in Wichita Thursday.