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Montana's Anthony Johnson reacts during the final seconds of Montana's win over Weber State in the NCAA, Big Sky Conference championship basketball game, Wednesday, in Ogden, Utah. Johnson scored a tournament record, 42 points. Colin E Braley/Associated Press

Hey, guess what?

Turns out the rest of the country loves Anthony Johnson and the Montana Grizzlies, too.

The Griz have turned into media darlings ever since their stunning 66-65 win over Weber State on Wednesday for the Big Sky Conference men’s basketball championship.

ESPN’s college basketball guru Andy Katz tweeted, “Wow. What a performance by Anthony Johnson. 42 points. Montana down 20 to Weber State and wins in Ogden. Love Wayne Tinkle. Great guy.”

“Johnson, Montana win one for the ages” was the headline on a story Katz later wrote for ESPN.com.

“Montana hoops husband, wife could share March Madness,” a story in USA Today proclaimed, before Johnson’s wife, Shaunte Nance-Johnson, and the Lady Griz were eliminated from the Big Sky tournament.

“Here is a horror film for Montana’s first-round opponent,” was another headline from USA Today’s Web site, which features a 6-minute, 43-second video of the Grizzlies’ rally from a 20-point halftime deficit. With martial music in the background and voice-overs from ESPN’s announcers, it’s reminiscent of the work by NFL Films.

“Even better than Montana hero’s 42-point game: His back story,” a headline on a story in Yahoo Sports reads.

That’s just a sampling. By the time you read this, there could be more.

“I might have some more interviews lined up today. I’ve been doing some radio stations, one in Seattle, and the Tacoma News Tribune called,” Johnson said of his hometown paper.

“I’m getting all kinds of phone calls and stuff from people saying they saw me on TV. It’s pretty flattering, but the job’s not done yet.”

And what is the job?

“The job is to get a couple of wins in the tournament,” Johnson said.

The Griz will find out Sunday who their NCAA tournament first-round opponent is when CBS airs the selection show at 4 p.m.

Johnson has had some 170-odd friend requests on his Facebook page since the Griz win.

“I have no idea who these people are, just no idea at all,” Johnson said. “It’s amazing because they’re leaving me messages like, ‘Good game, that’s the greatest performance I’ve seen in college basketball,’ things like that.”

But people far and wide are also seeing the bigger picture – Johnson’s unsettled home life as a youngster, how he’s been playing the game for only six years, his wife Shaunte’s influence on his basketball career, and his attempts to help his brothers, one of whom is in prison.

“There are people who have read my story and my background, and Shaunte’s background, and how we came to Montana, and people are pretty inspired,” Johnson said. “They aspire to do the things I’ve accomplished. I’m motivating people who are in a similar circumstance to what I grew up in. It’s been great overall to go through this experience and know it’s helping somebody.”

One of the messages Johnson is delivering in all these interviews is that there were four teammates on the floor with him at all times. If not for six blocked shots and 14 rebounds from Brian Qvale, or a clutch steal by Will Cherry, or any number of other plays, Johnson’s effort would have been a footnote rather than a new chapter in Griz history.

“Like I’ve been saying, it was a collective effort,” Johnson said. “Without those stops and clamping down on their main players, I don’t go down and score as many points as I did. It was a good team win.”

Much of the attention has centered on Johnson and his school- and tournament-record 42 points. That’s OK with fellow senior Ryan Staudacher.

“It’s rightfully so,” Staudacher said. “That was one heckuva performance and I had one of the best tickets in the house that night to be able to watch it. That was an unbelievable performance. Obviously it was a team effort to get to that point in the season, but he’s our leader, he’s our guy. That was a performance of a lifetime and we just rode it.”

The national attention began almost immediately after the final horn sounded.

“After the game we went back to the hotel and a big group of us sat around the TV and watched,” Staudacher said. “To see us come on SportsCenter and be the little intro piece on SportsCenter, and have the highlights on there was pretty cool. I watch ESPN every day, so to see us on there was really cool.”

For links to the articles mentioned above, go to this story on Missoulian.com.

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

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