Three-fifths of Montana's starting lineup sat on the bench in street clothes.
Senior Mike Weisner was out with a sprained ankle, likewise leading scorer Martin Breunig, although that wasn't revealed until game time. And sophomore Jermaine Edmonds was not in uniform for undisclosed reasons.
Yet there the Grizzlies were with a 52-42 lead with 9:57 to play, on their home floor in front of 2,973 fans, in Sunday's nonconference matchup against South Dakota at Dahlberg Arena.
Then the bottom dropped out. The Coyotes outscored the Griz 25-10 from that point on to take a 67-62 win in Montana's final game before Big Sky Conference play begins on Jan. 1.
"We just didn’t execute, that’s what it comes down to," said Griz senior Jordan Gregory, who led his team with 18 points. "We were getting beat one-on-one and they made free throws. We’ve been stressing that the last two minutes of games is when we really need to play our best and we didn’t today."
Senior Chris Kemp got the start in place of Breunig, who was injured in practice last week, although he was listed as a probable starter for Sunday's game. Kemp responded with a career-high 12 points and his back-to-back buckets gave the Griz their first double-digit lead, 49-39, with 11:06 to play. He did not get another shot for the remainder of the game.
Junior guard Sekou Harris came off the South Dakota bench to spark a 14-4 run that tied the game at 56-56 with 5:50 to play. Harris drained a 17-foot jumper and a 3-pointer during the burst, that was capped by Casey Kasperbauer's only trey of the game.
"We looked really slow," first-year South Dakota coach Craig Smith said. "Montana was clearly the aggressor the whole game until about the last 10 minutes. They were the first to every loose ball. We would go up for one-handed rebounds and Montana’s doing what you’re supposed to do with two hands, just taking it right from us.
"Harris is a sparkplug. He’s very fast, he brings the energy and he just got us going with some pace. We were able to pick up with the press; it just changed the momentum of the game."
The lead went back and forth until Tyler Larson -- 15 points, 10 rebounds -- gave the Coyotes the lead for good, 64-62, with 1:22 to play.
Brandon Gfeller missed a trey on Montana's next possession and Larson made it 66-62 with a bucket deep in the lane with 43 seconds to play. Gfeller, who finished 2 for 8 from the field, misfired on another trey and Trey Norris put it out of reach with a free throw with 25 ticks remaining.
"I should be excited to go home, but this kind of puts a damper on it," Gregory said. "It’s a game I thought we should have won and could have won. We’re going to have to do some self reflection over break and come back ready to play for Big Sky."
The sudden loss of Breunig and Edmonds left several Griz in unfamiliar roles. Sophomore Riley Bradshaw started in place of Edmoncds, but had a poor shooting night, finishing 2 of 10 from the field. Kemp said the start didn't feel much like an opportunity.
"Yes, but it was a loss more than anything," said Kemp, who also grabbed six rebounds. "With Martin being out, that’s our leading scorer, that’s a go-to guy; we lose a lot with him being out. I think we had an opportunity to win tonight. I think we should have won tonight, but I think Martin is a big part of our team, so by losing him we lose a lot."
Gregory, just a half point behind Breunig in scoring on the season, felt added pressure.
"Definitely, it changes the whole way I have to play, not having that 20-point threat out there," said Gregory, who was 6 for 17 from the field. "While he’s out other guys are going to step up and we’re going to have to figure out ways to stay productive."
Montana coach Travis DeCuire said he was happy with how his team responded to the adversity, at least for most of the game.
"They reacted well for 35 minutes; we were up 10 with a chance to get out of here with a win," DeCuire said. "I think we did a good job in terms of preparing for this and putting ourselves in a situation to be successful. We just have to learn to make plays and make decisions at the two-minute mark."
NOTES: When asked why Edmonds didn't play, DeCuire responded: "No comment." ... Freshman Fabijan Krslovic played his best game as a Griz and finished with career highs of eight points and nine rebounds. ... South Dakota made 10 of its first 18 shots from the field, but cooled off to finish at 42 percent. ... The Coyotes were 13 for 18 at the line; Montana was 11 of 19.