Griz men win 24th straight in Big Sky

MISSOULA — The University of Montana tied the Big Sky Conference record for consecutive league victories with a 73-63 conference win over a scrappy Northern Colorado Bears squad Thursday evening in UM’s Dahlberg Arena.

Montana’s 24th straight league win ties them with Weber State, which won 24 in a row from the 1967-68 to the 1969-70 seasons.

It was also the 13th win in a row for the Grizzlies, who improve to 13-0 in the Big Sky and 17-4 overall.  Montana started the week with the second longest winning streak in Division 1 (the leader was Akron win 13 straight).

The Bears (4-9 BSC and  6-15 overall), showed why they were picked third by the league coaches in the preseason polls, as they stayed with-in striking range throughout the whole game.  There were seven lead changes and three ties in the contest.

The Grizzlies had solid performances by the “Big Three,” junior guard-forward Kareem Jamar, senior forward Mathias Ward, and senior guard Will Cherry, all starters on UM’s 25-7 squad last season.

The versatile Jamar had a game-high 18 points, along with 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 blocks, and 3 steals and played 38 minutes.  Ward added 14 points and 7 boards in 35 minutes of action, while Cherry had 13 points, 5 assists, and 4 steals, and he also played 38 minutes.

All of NC’s leads and all of the game’s three ties occurred in the first half.  When Griz sophomore guard Keron DeShields made one of two free throws Montana took a slim, 14-13 lead with 12:05 left until the halftime, and the Griz led the rest of the way.  Montana led 33-26 at intermission.

The closest the Bears could get in the second half was 45-40 when junior guard Tate Unruh had a steal and them scored on a lay-up with 12:18 remaining.   But, after Unruh’s theft and score, the Griz went on a 5-0 run and took a 50-40 lead on a three-pointer by junior forward Mike Weisner.

NC cut the Montana margin to 50-44 with 9:45 to go on a jumper by junior guard Paul Garnica.  But, about three minutes later the Griz took their biggest lead of the game at 14 points (60-46) on a steal and dunk by Jamar, and UM led by at least 7 points the rest of the way.

Weisner and sophomore guard Jordan Gregory each added 9 points off the bench.

Junior forward Derrick Barden and Unruh led the Bears with 17 points apiece, and Unruh grabbed a game-high 9 rebounds.

Cherry now has 250 career steals, which moves him up to third in Big Sky history, as he passes Northern Arizona’s Tom DeBerry (247 steals, 1974-76).

The Griz defense held the Bears to 33.3% (19-of-57) shooting from the field and 24.0% (6-of-25) from 3-point range.  Montana was 26-of-50 (52.0%) and made 38.9% (7-of-18) treys.  NC out-boarded the Griz 38-28.

Montana hosts North Dakota in a Big Sky game on Saturday, Feb. 9.  UND (7-6 BSC & 10-12) defeated Montana State 82-73 in Bozeman this evening.

— UM Sports Information