GAME NOTES: The Montana Grizzlies attempt to keep pace atop the Big Sky Conference standings on Thursday night, as they take on the Sacramento State Hornets at Dahlberg Arena.
Sacramento State (14-13) is 8-10 in conference and is locked in a five-team race with Northern Colorado (9-10), Southern Utah (8-10), Montana State (8-10) and Northern Arizona (8-10) all battling for the final four spots in the conference tournament. After dropping three straight league games, the Hornets got back on track with a come-from-behind triumph over Idaho State (53-52) last Saturday to remain in contention.
Montana wrapped up a grueling five-game road trip on Monday night with an 86-74 overtime win at Southern Utah to go 3-2. The Grizzlies are in the midst of a great season at 21-6, and at 17-1 in the conference, they are clinging to a one-game advantage over Weber State in the race for the regular-season title.
Montana squeezed out a 61-60 victory in Sacramento back on Dec. 21, and it has won 12 in a row against the Hornets to extend its lead in the all-time series to a commanding 33-5.
Sacramento State trailed by a dozen points early in the second half of its latest game only to make claim to a seven-point advantage with less than three minutes to play. Idaho State managed to whittle that lead down to just one in the final minute, but the Hornets hung on. It was far from a stellar shooting performance, whether it be from the field overall (.362), beyond the arc (.217), or the foul line (.500), and Dylan Garrity was the only player to register double-digits in the win with 13 points. The Hornets are used to under-performing at the offensive end of the court, as they rank 10th in the league in scoring with 65.5 ppg, but they own the third-best scoring defense (65.6 ppg). John Dickson (12.7 ppg) and Mikh McKinney (12.3 ppg) are neck-and- neck for the team's scoring lead, while Garrity is one of the Big Sky's top floor generals with 11.8 ppg and 5.3 apg. Konner Veteto adds 10.6 ppg and a team-high 6.0 rpg.
The Grizzlies were in control of their latest contest for nearly the entire second half until Southern Utah went on a 10-2 run to take a three-point lead in the final minute of regulation. Montana answered however, as Jordan Gregory made the game-tying 3-pointer to force overtime, and it dominated the extra session, 19-7. Kareem Jamar paced the winning effort with 26 points, draining 12-of-13 from the free-throw line in the process. Spencer Coleman scored 16 points, Gregory had 14 points and seven rebounds and Keron DeShields netted 13 points. Montana ranks near the top of the Big Sky in most statistical categories, most importantly scoring offense (71.9 ppg) and scoring defense (66.4 ppg), which makes it one of just two teams in the conference (along with Weber State) to boast positive scoring margins (+5.5). Mathias Ward (14.8 ppg) and Jamar (14.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg) are both consistent contributors, with each shooting better than 47 percent from the field. Will Cherry (13.2 ppg) has missed the last two games with a foot injury, and his status for this matchup is in question.
Even if Montana has to play without Cherry, it shouldn't have much of an issue dismissing the Hornets as it will likely ride the home court advantage all the way to the winner's circle.
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