A return trip to Reno was supposed to be about redemption, but that will have to wait another year.
Montana lost a 10-point halftime lead as Nevada hit five of its last six shots to overcome the deficit and end Montana's season with a 79-75 loss to the Wolf Pack in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational tournament at Reno, Nevada.
The loss was the second consecutive in Reno for the Griz, who lost in the championship of the Big Sky Conference Tournament on Saturday that cost them a bid to the NCAA tournament. The return was supposed to be about making a run at the CBI title and for most of the game the Griz appeared to be on a mission.
They opened a 13-point lead with with about 12 minutes expired in the opening half. They were able to maintain that lead for all but two minutes, finally losing it when Lindsey Drew hit the Wolf Pack's sixth three of the second half to put the host ahead 70-68 with 1:35 to play.
Nevada pushed its lead to four before Montana was able to get it back to a single possession on two Martin Breunig free throws, but Eric Cooper Jr., responded with a three and Montana couldn't respond.
After being held to a dismal 35 percent in the second half, Nevada shot 58 percent from the floor, hit seven threes and cashed in 15 of its 18 free throws in the deciding half.
Nevada took its first lead, 67-66, with 2:28 to go. It came right after Bobby Moorehead put Montana on top with a three from the wing that appeared, at least for the moment, to stop the Wolf Pack's late charge. But with more than 4,000 fans in blue, Nevada kept coming.
After Breunig fouled out trying to take a charge at mid-court with 28 seconds left and the Griz trying to erase what was then a five-point deficit, Moorehead missed a three that Cooper rebounded and then knocked down two freebies from the stripe to push the Wolf Pack lead to seven and render Walter Wright's late three – the Grizzlies' last shot of the season – irrelevant.
Prior to leaving Missoula on Tuesday morning, Montana coach Travis DeCuire said he thought if his was the aggressor that it would have a good chance of moving into the tournament's second round. For 20 minutes he looked to be right.
Montana – and more specifically Jack Lopez – came out on fire, hitting jumpers from all over the court. Lopez hit three threes before the game was four minutes old to put the Griz up 11-7.
One of the nation's most accurate shooters, Lopez received some help from Mario Dunn, who hit his first two from beyond the arch. Then Lopez did the dirty work, taking an offensive foul and diving on the floor to save a loose ball he dished to Michael Oguine for a layup.
Four minutes later he hit his fourth three. Dunn added a baseline jumper and Breunig a layup to push the Grizzlies' advantage to 13. That's as far as they could pull away despite Lopez' 17 first-half points.
Montana maintained control of its lead to open the second, but with a little more than five minutes expired, Nevada made its push.
D.J. Fenner hit back-to-back triples and Tyron Criswell a layup in an 8-0 run that cut the lead to four. After Wright hit a three to put Montana ahead seven, Nevada kept coming and two consecutive threes from Fenner with 9:28 to go erased what had been a sizeable advantage.
Breunig finished with 20 points and eight rebounds. His two-year total of 1,158 points placed him 17th on Montana's all-time scoring list.
NOTES: Lopez hit a career high six 3-points to finish with 20 points. ... Montana shot six free throws to Nevada's 26. The Wolf Pack hit 23 of their trips to the line. ... Montana hit 12 threes. ... Fenner led Nevada with 24, Drew had 16 and Cameron Oliver 17. ... Nevada scored 52 points in the second half, tying the most the Griz have given up in any half this season.