University of Montana freshman guard Josh Vazquez watches as a teammate lines up to shoot a free throw against Northern Colorado on Thursday, March 5.

The University of Montana’s Men’s Basketball team experienced deja vu on Dec. 5, losing by just one point off of free throws to Southern Utah University 74-75, in Cedar City, Utah. It’s the second loss for the Griz in two days after the first of the double header against the Thunderbirds. 

On Saturday, Montana led by as much as 13 points in the second half, but turnovers and hot shooting by the Thunderbirds cost the team the game. 

“When we do the right thing on both sides of the ball, we can be a pretty good basketball team,” head coach Travis Decuire said in a radio interview. “But on the other side we need to sustain that.”

The loss on the road gave Montana a 0-3 record, and 0-2 in the Big Sky (both games against Southern Utah). The game was certainly less sloppy. Coach Decuire referred to it as a January game, and the stats show it.

Montana shot 51% from the field, and 57% on 3-pointers, while the Thunderbirds held a 45% FG rate. Southern Utah managed to shoot over 30 threes, making 10, which Decuire said was by design. 

“Some of them were forced,” Decuire said. “We did a decent job of minimizing their penetration. When we made the adjustment [the three] was what was available for them.”

Southern Utah started the game strong, nailing four threes in the first 10 minutes, and taking as much as a 9 point lead, 23-14. The Thunderbirds spread the scoring around to seven players in the first half, but no player reached double digits scoring until the second half. 

Montana went on a strong 11-0 run to finish the first half, led by transfer guard Cameron Parker.

Parker put up 15 points in the first half off of 5-7 shooting, including going 3-3 beyond the arc. He finished with 19 points and 6 assists. 

At halftime, Montana led 36-31.

Second half comprised both teams making double digit runs, but Montana’s seven point move by Michael Steadman and Kyle Owens pushed the lead to 53-46 with 11:30 to go in the game.

Owens finished with a career and team high 21 points in 35 minutes on the court. The sophomore also went 2-3 beyond the arc, and Decuire said he showed the work he put in over the offseason.

I don't know anyone in our program that they have put more in their game [than Kyle,]” Decuire said. “One of the most important things is he changed his shot.”

With six minutes to go, the Thunderbirds slowly tightened the game, until a six-point run led by SUU’s Dre Marin gave SUU a 74-71 lead with under two minutes to go. Southern Utah went 5-6 from the field to finish the game and Marin co-lead the team with 19 points off of 6-12 shooting, including 4 threes.

Decuire said one issue he saw with the game was allowing the Thunderbirds to make runs after Montana sat on comfortable leads. 

“I thought we got complacent,” Decuire said. “Everytime we led by double digits we lost our shot selection.”

A drawn up play by Decuire sent Vazquez up behind the arc with seconds to go, and he nailed a three to tie it up 74 all. The Thunderbirds then launched their own three, which missed, but an offensive putback drew a foul. 

Southern Utah got two FT shots, and took one point lead with just 1.3 seconds on the clock. 

Montana’s tendency to foul, especially in the paint, was not present compared to their 28 fouls against SUU in the Dec 3 game, but the Thunderbirds still managed to draw 7 FT points in the second half.

The quick putback was not on target, and the Griz fell again by one point in Cedar City. 

Montana will continue on the road and take on Georgia, in Athens, Dec. 8. The next home game will not be until they continue Big Sky play against Northern Colorado Dec. 31. 

“We gotta get back into COVID protocol so we can get back out, and try to play some basketball every night so we can get better,” Decuire said.