When there are 209 points scored in a game, it’s hard to label one or two baskets as daggers.
Don’t tell that to Montana men’s basketball coach Travis DeCuire.
Brian Sullivan hit a pair of back-breaking 3-pointers in the final two minutes to quash a Griz rally and Davidson outlasted Montana 110-99 in a game that kept all 3,172 fans at Dahlberg Arena entertained for 40 minutes.
Sullivan, a junior guard, entered the game shooting 21.7 percent from 3-point range, but you know what they say about statistics.
“He’s their best shooter,” DeCuire said. “… That guy’s the best shooter on that team and it’s a matter of time before the basket gets big for him and that’s what happened. Those two threes win the game.”
Sullivan, who finished with 22 points, had plenty of help, though. Sophomore point guard Jack Gibbs led the Wildcats (7-1) of the Atlantic 10 Conference with 28 points, making all 12 of his free throws. Senior guard Tyler Kalinoski added 21 for Davidson, which shot 59 percent from the field, 67 percent in the second half.
“It was team defense; you can’t say it was a one-on-one deal,” said Griz junior Martin Breunig, who led Montana (3-5) with a career-high 30 points. “Our team had mental lapses and we weren’t where we were supposed to be on defense and it allowed them to play a one-on-one game for like 35 minutes.”
Time and again, Gibbs, Kalinoski and Sullivan were able to get past their defenders for high-percentage shots at the rim.
“They got us in foul trouble early,” DeCuire said. “We got some quick hand-check calls early, so you have guys like Mario (Dunn) and Brandon (Gfeller) who are out guarding guys at 25 feet that can shoot from out there with three fouls with 15 minutes to go in the game. It’s hard to get up to pressure, take away the shot and contain the ball. I think the fouls made us passive.”
The Griz were whistled for 29 of them, which led to Davidson’s 34-for-36 performance at the line.
But as gaudy as Davidson’s numbers were, Montana was nearly as extravagant.
Jordan Gregory backed up Breunig with a career-best 29 points, making 4 of 8 from downtown. Jermaine Edmonds added 11 and Mario Dunn had 10 for the Griz, who shot 56 percent from the floor, and an even 50 percent (11 for 22) from beyond the arc.
“It’s starting to come together offensively; we have a lot of weapons,” Gregory said. “To score as many points as we did you think you’d come out with the win. We have to recommit to the defensive end and have more intensity.”
Davidson led 45-42 at intermission and pushed its lead to as many as 11 on several occasions, the first coming on a four-point play by Sullivan with 9:44 to play that made it 77-66. Gregory hit a pair of treys to cut the gap to five on two occasions, only to see Gibbs answer on the other end.
“They just lured us to sleep a lot of times,” Gregory said of the Wildcats’ crafty guards. “They’d start to do one thing, slow it down and change direction. They’re a couple of the better guards we’ve faced this whole preseason. They played really well.”
Jack Lopez drained a 3-pointer to cut Davidson’s lead to 96-93 with 2:47 to play. Then after playing 34 seconds of good defense, Sullivan unloaded the first of his daggers at the shot-clock buzzer to make it 99-93.
Gregory answered with a trey of his own, but Sullivan was there again from about 28 feet to restore the six-point lead, 102-96, with 1:31 to play. The Griz trimmed the deficit to five on a Breunig free throw, but could get no closer in the final seconds.
The Griz missed the presence of senior Mike Weisner, who was in a walking boot after spraining his right ankle in Sunday’s win over North Dakota State. He’s day to day.
“Big time,” DeCuire said when asked how big a factor that played. “Because we made mental mistakes down the stretch. We get it to four and we leave a shooter open and we don’t get the shot we want. It’s one less veteran on the floor. If Mike’s in there, we have a little more depth and some guys don’t play the minutes they played.”
The Griz will finish up final exams, then travel to face Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Sunday.
NOTES: The 110 points were the most given up by the Griz in a home loss since Oral Roberts rang up 111 on Montana in the 1970-71 season. … Both teams took care of the ball, finishing with eight turnovers apiece. … Davidson owned a 31-23 edge on the boards. Kalinoski led the Wildcats with seven; Breunig had six for the Griz.