Montana 74, Eastern Washington 66
Star of the game: Sophomore wing Kareem Jamar, although it’s hard to ignore Mathias Ward and Will Cherry. Jamar scored 16 of his 18 points after halftime and grabbed 13 rebounds. He had a steal and a layup that gave the Griz a 61-58 lead with 3:41 to play, but Eastern came back to go in front 62-61. Will Cherry, though, converted a tough three-point play to give the Griz the lead for good at 64-62. Cherry then found Ward for a dunk, before Jamar slammed the door by grabbing a rebound and going coast to coast for a three-point play to make it 69-62.
“Where he hurt us the most was on the boards,” Eastern Washington coach Jim Hayford said of Jamar. “He’s really a tough guy to guard from that wing spot because he brings size and some athleticism. He’s a really good player. I wish he was a senior.”
Jamar was 0 for 6 from the field in the first half., 6 for 9 in the second half.
“Kareem wasn’t himself, but he wasn’t the only one,” Montana coach Wayne Tinkle said. “There were a lot of us that didn’t play the way we’d been playing. He was a beast on the boards, which was huge for us and in the second half he got to the free-throw line, got some defensive plays for us to let us get out in transition and get some baskets. That really helped turn the momentum. The rebounds were huge. Those guys are athletic. They were climbing on us all night and we had to get some rebounds from our guards. He really stepped up.”
Reasons for optimism:
1. Closing strong. The Griz shot 58 percent from the field in the second half after shooting 27 percent before intermission. They were 14 of 16 (87 percent) from the free-throw line in the second half and 27 for 32 (84 percent) for the game.
“You look at the stats all year long and their opponents make more free throws, just about, than they attempt,” Tinkle said. “The teams they’ve beat didn’t get to the free-throw line. Our focus was to pound it in, pound it in. How many layups did we miss? We missed a boatload of layups or it doesn’t come down to making a couple of plays with a minute to go. I don’t want to discredit what they did because they caused a lot of frustration.”
2. Crowd support. Although Dahlberg was far from full at 5,563 fans, it was a loud crowd the urged the Griz on throughout the game. After putting out a tiring effort against the gritty Eagles, the Griz will need all the support they can muster Wednesday against Weber State.
3. Momentum. The Griz have won 13 straight and always believe they’ll find a way to pull the game out.
“We’re happy to pull it out, we’re happy to advance,” Tinkle said. “Our only motivation heading into this thing wasn’t anything that happened in the first couple of games, it was get to Wednesday night. We accomplished that.”
Reason for concern:
1. Minutes. Cherry played 40, Derek Selvig played 37, Jamar played 36 and Ward played 35. The Griz will need some more help from their bench against Weber in the championship. The good news is that Weber had to play to the wire in its semifinal win over Portland State, but got more bench help from Gelaun Wheelwright and Jordan Richardson.