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A strong second half lifted Montana to an 84-67 victory over visiting Whitworth on Saturday afternoon. The 84 points scored was Montana’s second-largest scoring output of the season, while on the defensive end, the Grizzlies – ranked 25th nationally for scoring defense – once again held an opponent under 70 points.

As a team, Montana shot .547 from the field, including a .400 clip from 3-point range and .833 from the free-throw line. Montana used a balanced scoring attack to create separation from the Pirates, with five players scoring in double figures and seven players reaching seven points or more. Sophomore Josh Vazquez led all scorers with 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting (3-of-5 from deep), while Montana’s trio of freshmen combined for 35 points (12 apiece for Robby Beasley III and Brandon Whitney, and 11 for Josh Bannan).

Montana was out-played early on, with the Pirates building a 16-12 lead less than 8 minutes into the contest. That woke Montana up, however, as Beasley connected on a 3-pointer on the other end of the floor, the start of a personal 7-0 run to give Montana the lead back.

The run extended to 17-4, as Whitworth was held to just two made baskets over a stretch of nearly 8 minutes, allowing Montana to take a 29-20 lead. With sophomore Eddy Egun being a sparkplug off the bench, the momentum continued, as Egun gave the Grizzlies a 34-26 lead with under 4 minutes remaining in the first half. During a 90-second spurt, Egun scored seven of Montana’s nine points, in addition to a steal and a rebound.

The Pirates, though, didn’t go away quietly, tying the game with an 8-0 run in a span of just 1:09. The Pirates forced turnovers on three consecutive Griz possessions, turning the miscues into points each time.

Montana shot .560 from the floor in the first half, but entered the locker room with just a four-point lead, 40-36, after letting the Pirates shoot .471 and force eight steals. Overall, Montana turned the ball over 13 times in the opening 20 minutes, leading directly to 14 Whitworth points.

The Grizzlies, though, straightened things out during the intermission.

After recording just two offensive rebounds and zero second-chance points in the first half, Montana recorded three offensive boards (and four points) in the opening 3 minutes of the second half. The Pirates were held scoreless during that span, allowing Montana to build its first double-digit lead of the game (46-36 with 17:06 to play). Montana led by at least 10 points for the final 13 minutes of the contest, and by as many as 20 points.

Montana made more than half of its shots in the second half and out-rebounded the Pirates 21 to 11.

Quoting DeCuire

(on the game overall)

“Our heads are going in the right direction. We had the right intent with the way we played. I would have loved to see a little more emotion, and sense of urgency early, but we shared the ball and I thought our shot selection was great.”

(on overcoming 13 first-half turnovers and a sloppy first half)

“We switched the ball screen. This is a team that really takes advantage of any help. They back screen, back cut a lot. They got quite a few layups. The biggest thing for us, defensively, was not turning the ball over because they couldn’t get breakaway layups.”

(on the team’s balance)

“The versatility is great and the depth is even better. When you’re so young, you don’t know who’s going to have a good game when, or who’s going to play well for what stretches, so a lot of the in and out is to find production but also create opportunities for more people. Shoutout to Fred Brown, Mack Anderson and Eddy Egun. Those three guys have been phenomenal on the sidelines, and I think it’s really good for our mojo.”

(on Vazquez’s strong day)

“He got a lot of experience last year as a freshman and he’s played at a high level, so there’s no reason for him to be fearful of anyone. I think the biggest thing today was five assists and one turnover. He’s done a really good job taking care of the ball, he’s been selective with the plays he makes. We’ve been able to leave him alone and let him play his game, and I think our ability to move him off the ball has really fed into his aggression.”

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