MISSOULA — Early morning basketball tip-offs in Montana are usually reserved for high school postseason consolation games, but on Monday at 9 a.m., it was the Grizzly men's basketball team waking up early to play its fourth Big Sky Conference game of the year.
Montana's trend of close league games continued, but this time around, it was not the Grizzlies on the losing side of a tight contest. UM downed Northern Colorado, 56-54, as freshman forward Josh Bannan hit a mid-range jump shot to put Montana in front with 4.8 seconds left in the game.
"I expected to make it," Bannan said. "I work on a lot of those shots. Sort of a tough game today, missing some shots I'd like to be making. Just got to be confident, have trust and I was open and it was on me to be taking that shot."
Bannan, who came back to the court to shoot baskets for around 10 minutes following Saturday's loss to the Bears, hit the shot from near where he had been practicing following that game.
Bannan did not come through on a 3-point attempt before the buzzer with one second remaining in the first game between UNC and Montana.
"That's the sign of someone that wants to be in that situation again," Grizzly head coach Travis DeCuire said of Bannan's late-night shootaround. "I think he prepared himself for that."
Montana is now 1-3 in the Big Sky and 4-6 overall. Its four Big Sky games have been decided by a total of six points.
Trailing by a point after a Bears three-point play from forward Kur Jockuch, Montana nearly lost the game after having several chances under the basket with under 10 seconds left.
Grizzly guard Josh Vazquez missed a short jumper, and after a review, it was determined the ball went off a Montana player. On the ensuing inbounds play, Northern Colorado failed to get the ball in and was called for a five-second violation with 6.8 seconds left.
UM, which nearly had been called for the same foul moments before, was able to inbound the ball, and Bannan found the back of the net. Bannan has struggled from the field over the past few games and made just 5 of 17 shots against UNC, but he did tack on nine rebounds.
"I think he never got discouraged, I think he hung in there," DeCuire said. "In the huddle, he was pumping guys up, he was helping with his teammates' communication. He wasn't worried about what wasn't working for him, he was more concerned about what was next."
Montana senior Michael Steadman had 19 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. It was the first double-double from the transfer this season.
The Grizzlies won despite shooting 22 of 62 (35.5%) from the field. Montana shot 10 three-point shots, making two of them. The Grizzlies shot just 15 three-point shots total in the two-game series against the Bears.
Montana also had a 16-9 advantage in points off of turnovers and had 11 offensive rebounds to UNC's six. It was just the third time this season the Grizzlies have had more offensive rebounds than their opponent.
Over half of the Grizzlies' points came in the paint.
"We had to be ready to go out and hit them first," Steadman said. "Because if we just lay back, they're going to attack us."
Next up for Montana is a home game against Whitworth on Jan. 9. The Grizzlies' next Big Sky matchup will be two home games against Northern Arizona on Jan. 14 and Jan. 16.
NOTES: The game was a 9 a.m. tip not because of travel arrangements but COVID-19 testing protocols: "They needed to get out of here to get back in time to test," DeCuire said. "We don't want teams testing on the road because there's no protocol for getting people home. You have a positive test on the road, how are you getting home? You can't fly, so someone would have to drive them all the way back to Greeley. And who's that going to be? It all comes down to how you can get out of town in time, to get back, get your third test. So we all need to test today, which is really your first test of the week. So we tested this morning and we will have our results before they get out of here."
Jordan Hansen covers a bunch of stuff for the Missoulian and 406 Sports. Shout at him on Twitter @jordyhansen or shoot him an email at Jordan.Hansen@406mtsports.com