SAN JOSE, Calif. – The Montana Grizzlies’ season ended as it inevitably would Thursday night – with a loss.

The margin of the loss though – 81-34 to 16th-ranked Syracuse in a second-round NCAA men’s basketball tournament game – was certainly disheartening for a team that romped through the Big Sky Conference with a 19-1 record. The Griz finished 25-7 overall.

It was the final game for seniors Will Cherry and Mathias Ward, who won more games – 93 – in their four years as Grizzlies than any other senior class in school history. Ward was on the bench with a foot injury that ended his season on Feb. 16.

“It was a tough game for us obviously,” Montana coach Wayne Tinkle said. “We have to tip our caps to Syracuse. They took the fight to us early and we couldn’t get anything going. We had opportunities in transition to try to break the ice and didn’t take advantage of that, and it snowballed.”

The absence of the 6-foot-7 Ward was particularly troubling for the Griz, who could not match the superior size of Syracuse, the Big East Conference runner-up. Nor could the Griz penetrate the 2-3 zone made famous by Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim.

The stifling defense made it impossible for Montana’s backcourt of Cherry and Kareem Jamar to get untracked. Jamar didn’t score until 7:30 remained in the game. Cherry scored less than two minutes into the game, then not again. Jamar was one of four Grizzlies who finished with five points.

Cherry and Jamar had promised this season would be different after the Griz were blown out 73-49 by Wisconsin in last year’s NCAA tournament.

“I wish I had an answer for you, but I don’t,” Jamar said when asked why this go-round was no different. “The coaches gave us a great game plan, we just couldn’t execute it. When we did execute it, we couldn’t make shots. It sucks when you work so hard, practice so hard and are given a great game plan and you can’t go out there and execute it.”

Sports editor Bob Meseroll can be reached at 523-5265 or at sportsdesk@missoulian.com.

(8) comments

Greenland
Greenland

A disappointment for sure; but that's sports.

Sometimes, "the breaks are beating the boys ..." and they did last night.

This is a great team, a great year, a group of very fine young men, and the best coach a college team could hope for.

There are no problems here; just a wonderful year of collegiate basketball.

I'm proud of them, and proud that they are a part of the University of Montana.

Lamplighter
Lamplighter

Isn't it time at last to give up any delusions about Griz athletics when it's clear that continuing in the sad sack Big Sky prepares them for nothing more than a butt kicking when they leave the sandbox to compete in the real world of D-! basketball? Until real leadership displaying vision finally surfaces in Helena and on-campus this is will continue to be the destiny of UM and its long suffering fans.

tundrathumper
tundrathumper

There are smaller schools...such as Gonzaga...that are....better.

grizfootball
grizfootball

It's absolutely ridiculous that anyone should think the griz should be in 1-AA or NAIA. The griz have been one of the top mid majors in the country this year. They deserved to be at the tournament. The just had a bad night. The tourney gives small teams a chance(butler, George mason, northern Iowa, VCU, ect.) to try and play with the big schools and montana is just like those schools.

montanamuralist
montanamuralist

Congrats to the Griz on a great year and showing class and heart through all the adversity you faced, especially losing your best inside player in Ward in February. That being said, I am pretty miffed at the NCAA for taking schools like Montana, schools that are not going to get the basketball recruits of a Syracuse, Georgetown etc, and throwing them in with these teams like lambs to slaughter. Yes, I realize we won one playoff game a few years ago...big deal. The fact is, and I am sorry to say this, reality is the driving force regarding basketball in this town and the attendance figures. There is no way the Griz are going to be able to compete against quality teams like Syracuse., We could have stayed close had we had a few 3's drop and made it look respectable but the outcome was certain before the game started. Any other belief is just not dealing with reality. If the NCAA wanted to be smart, and sometimes they are and mostly are not, they would set up a lower division for basketball schools like Montana where there is a chance to compete on an equal level. It is stupid to think that a person like myself takes any of this very seriously when you understand there is a once in a lifetime chance, if all th stars align correctly and luck is on your side, that you might win one game or two in the tournament. Time to push for a I-AA tournament like football and tell the NCAA to stop making money on the backs of schools like Montana who really are not equipped to compete in these kinds of tournaments.

mcbp
mcbp

VCU, Gonzaga, St. Marys, George Mason, Butler, St. Louis, Creighton, Villanova. Need I go on?

There's is a lesser tournament, many in fact. NIT, CBI, COllege insiders etc..

Seriously? You want them to drop the level of competition so you can win? Facepalm.

mtbigsky
mtbigsky

Congrats to the Griz! Another fun season - through all the injuries, you showed great character and proved this team has a lot of heart. All the best to Mathias Ward and Will Cherry. May you both have nothing but the best in the future.

jabo
jabo

Barf,vomit,puke. Is there any way griz ball can go to 1AA or NAIA. All the big talk in media this week. Hey griz, welcome to the real world. Get your degrees and be happy.

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