MISSOULA — Good thing the Montana men's basketball team is one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the NCAA, because points from the line came in handy late in a foul-riddled game against Eastern Washington Thursday in Cheney, Washington.
Montana and Eastern Washington combined for 56 fouls — 28 on each — and 64 free-throw attempts. The Grizzlies held on for a 90-78 win to improve to 11-5 and 4-1 in the Big Sky, winning their third league game in a row. The Eagles dropped to 8-7 and 2-2 in league play.
Montana snapped a three-game skid to Eastern Washington with the win.
"The most important thing is you come out with a competitive edge to yourself and play hard," Montana coach Travis DeCuire told KGVO radio. " ... I think we are doing that right now and we showed a lot of confidence in one another the way shared offensively."
Brandon Whitney and Robby Beasley III each scored 19 to lead the way while Josh Bannan scored 16 and hauled in 11 rebounds for his third double-double in a row. Three Grizzlies fouled out, Derrick Carter-Hollinger, Mack Anderson and Kyle Owens. Three Eagles also fouled out while they were fouling on purpose in the final minute.
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Despite the fouls that led to whistles on just about each play at times, the Grizzlies and Eagles played a competitive game that went back and forth for much of the night.
The Grizzlies opened with a 9-0 run getting whatever they wanted on quick penetration and ball movement, but the Eagles answered to eventually take a 21-19 lead by the 6:21 mark of the first half. The Eagles went to a matchup zone that forced some struggles from Montana and, on the other end, the Eagles went inside and forced the Grizzlies into early foul trouble.
After the Eagles took a 22-21 lead, Montana rattled off nine unanswered to take a 30-22 lead with its own run but, in a game of run after run, the Eagles had an answer as Montana ended the first half up just 36-34.
The Grizzlies opened the second half on a 17-4 run behind scoring all over the court. Bannan hit a 3 and a layup to start, then ]Carter-Hollinger and Anderson got in on the scoring. Beasley hit a 3 on a fast break, then Carter-Hollinger hit one of his own as Montana rolled to start the second.
Eastern Washington again had a run, getting it back to a three-point deficit taking advantage of fouls and interior play. A Lonnell Martin Jr. catch-and-shoot 3 from the top of the arc at the end of the shot clock helped Montana start to pull away, and later Whitney found a groove inside with back-to-back contested layups to put the Grizzlies up 68-59 at the 5:09 mark.
From there the lead grew and was padded by free throws. Montana scored off just one field goal in the final five minutes, a step-back 3 by Robby Beasley III to keep the Eagles away. Montana hit 19 of 20 from the free-throw line in the final five minutes. The Grizzlies went 26 of 30 from the charity stripe for the game while the Eagles went 27 of 34.
The Grizzlies (11-5, 4-1 Big Sky) head over to Bozeman for the Brawl of the Wild hoops game against Montana State (11-5, 3-2 Big Sky), which beat Idaho Thursday night. Sunday's game is set for 5 p.m. MT.