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.”