Montana picked up a win in its final non-conference game at home against the Whitworth Pirates on Jan. 9. The Griz won 84-67, making 20 free throws in the contest.
“We had some really good stretches defensively,” said UM head coach Travis DeCuire. “The only thing that really hurt us was our own turnovers.”
UM made 54.7% of its shots and was able to limit Whitworth to a 46.8% conversion rate on its shooting attempts. UM also made 16 more free throws than Whitworth.
“We’ve been shooting [free throws] well lately,” said DeCuire. ”We’ve had a pretty good stretch of making them.”
Whitworth is a Division III school located in Spokane, Washington. The Pirates have had 15 straight 20-win seasons and made it to the Division III sweet sixteen last year before the tournament was canceled.
Whitworth caught UM off guard and took a 7-5 lead in the first half.
Sophomore guard Josh Vazquez helped Montana early in the first half by making two 3-pointers and narrowing Whitworth’s lead to 14-12.
Vazquez had a team-high 14 points and made two of his five 3-point attempts.
As the second half continued, UM began turning the ball over frequently. Whitworth was able to capitalize off these UM errors and keep the game close. With just over two minutes remaining in the first half, the game was tied 34-34.
UM turned the ball over 19 total times in the game with 10 of its turnovers coming from Whitworth steals.
Thanks to two sucessful free throws by freshman guard Robby Beasley III and a buzzer-beater by Josh Vazquez, UM led 40-36 at halftime. Beasly III finished with 12 points and three assists for the Griz.
In the second half, UM began to show why it is two divisions higher than Whitworth.
Senior forward Michael Steadman pulled down an offensive rebound and put the ball into the basket five minutes into the second half to put UM up by 10. A few possessions later, Beasley II made a 3-pointer to keep UM up double digits.
Steadman had eight points and eight rebounds in the game.
With under 10 minutes left in the game, Whitworth’s bench was called for a technical foul. UM made both free throws from the foul and went up 65-50.
In the final minutes of the game, Whitworth began full-court pressing the Griz in an effort to get more steals. Thanks to some crafty dribbling from UM’s ball handlers, the press didn’t work and UM coasted to a 84-67 win.
The Griz outscored Whitworth 44-31 in the second half. Five different Griz players scored in double digits.
Montana’s record is now 5-6. Its next game will be against Northern Arizona University Jan. 14 at home.