MISSOULA, Mont. — For the first time since December 9, 2000, the Thunderbird men’s basketball team knocked off the University of Montana Grizzlies, and did so on the road in overtime by a final score of 85-80.
With the victory, the T-Birds will finish the regular season with a 16-15 overall record, making it the first time since the 2006-07 season that they will enter the postseason with a record above .500.
The victory also propels the T-Birds into the No. 7 seed at the Big Sky Conference Championship Tournament.
“The guys are excited,” SUU head coach Todd Simon said. “They’ve had our number for so long, they’re so tough at their place and it was senior night so we knew we were going to have to play really good, and the guys did that, especially in the second half. And the way we defended was fantastic.”
It was all Montana early in the contest, as they built an 11-2 lead by the first media timeout. The T-Birds were able to steady the ship before the second media timeout was called, but the Griz still held a solid advantage at 18-11.
As the half went on the Grizzlies built their lead to as many as 16, but the Thunderbirds were able to close out the frame on a 13-3 run to trail the Griz by just seven at the break.
“We stayed the course, and we’ve fought back so many times this year that we didn’t really even blink,” Simon said. “We made plays, dialed in and crawled our way back.”
Cameron Oluyitan had 11 points at the break for the Thunderbirds. The T-Birds went 13-of-19 from the free throw line in the first half as well.
As the second half got started, Oluyitan made three-consecutive buckets for the Thunderbirds to keep them within striking distance, trailing 46-40 with 15:54 to play.
The T-Birds crawled all the way back thanks to a John Knight III layup that capped off an 8-0 run, tying the contest at 50-50. After a few minutes going back-and-forth, Andre Adams gave the T-Birds a 59-58 advantage and their first lead since going ahead 2-0.
Down the stretch neither team led by more than four, and the contest went down to the final possessions.
Southern Utah had the ball last in regulation, and both Knight III and Adams weren’t able to connect, which sent the contest to overtime.
In the overtime period the T-Birds were able to outscore the Griz 14-9, and left Missoula with a much-needed victory over one of the top teams in the Big Sky.
Oluyitan and Harrison Butler were SUU’s leading scorers, both dropping in 17 points. Butler had a double-double on the night as well, pulling in 10 rebounds. Oluyitan fouled out before the game went to overtime.
Knight III finished with 14 points, while Adams and Jakolby Long both finished with 12. Long finished the game 8-of-8 from the charity stripe.
All told, the T-Birds shot 32-of-43 from the free throw line.
“We found a group that had an outstanding defensive effort, and we rolled with them,” Simon said. “That’s a testament to our guys and their commitment to one another.”
SUU outrebounded Montana 44-34, and held a 29-14 advantage in bench points. SUU also outscored the Griz 15-2 in fast break points.
On his senior night, Montana great Sayeed Pridgett scored 27 points and played 40 minutes before fouling out of the contest.
The T-Birds will now turn their attention to the Big Sky Conference Championship Tournament, where they’ll face the Idaho Vandals on Wednesday. That contest will be the second of the day in Boise, and will tip off 30 minutes following the conclusion of the first game.
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Story and photo courtesy of SUU Athletic Strategic Communication