MISSOULA, Mont., Jan 17 - Damon Heuir scored 19 points to lead three Thunderbirds in double figures but Southern Utah sent Montana to the free throw line 47 times and committed 21 turnovers as the Grizzlies took a 73-67 Big Sky win Thursday night.
Montana moved to 11-4 overall and 7-0 in BSC play to retain a share of first place while SUU dipped to 5-11, 3-4 in conference play.
Southern Utah got off to a hot start, making four of its first five shots to take and early 9-2 lead, but the prosperity didn't last as the 'Birds missed seven of their next nine attempts. Montana took advantage, moving out to a 16-14 lead, then extending the advantage to 31-23 at halftime.
The Griz forced 12 Thunderbird turnovers in the first period, but also enjoyed a significant edge at the free throw line in the half, hitting 14-of-18 from the line while SUU attempted just two free throws, converting them both.
"Overall it was a good basketball game in a good environment." SUU Coach Nick Robinson said. "I thought we started the game extremely well, we sustained our execution offensively throughout the night and did a decent job defensively against a very physical basketball team. Give a lot of credit to Montana in terms of their preparation, they did a nice job tonight and obviously once again tonight our biggest challenge in a game like this is our ability to take care of the basketball."
In the second half the Thunderbirds cut down on the turnovers, giving it away just nine times, but Montana's parade to the free throw line didn't end as the Grizzlies attempted 29 more charity tosses in the second half while SUU got just three more attempts. Southern Utah wound up 5-for-5 from the line while Montana was 31-of-47.
The Thunderbirds stayed in the game, however. After giving up the first basket of the second half and committing four turnovers in their first five possessions they outscored Montana 9-2 to pull within 33-32 at the 15:38 mark.
The Grizzlies slowly pulled away, however, pushing the advantage to 44-36 before A.J. Hess hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to five. Montana stymied the SUU run, however, and continued to build the lead, going up 58-41 with 4:46 to play.
SUU scored the next eight points, however, getting a layup from Heuir, a 3-pointer from Jordan Johnson and another three from Wade Collie before Spencer Coleman hit one of two free throws for UM to make it a 59-49 game with 2:48 to play.
After the Griz went up 61-49 on two more Coleman free throws Heuir hit three 3-pointers to and the after Stevenett hit two free throws the Thunderbirds found themselves back within 66-62 but Montana hit seven free throws down the stretch to hold off SUU and pull out the win.
"In terms our execution in the late-game situation Damon was impressive, he had a string of 3-pointers, Jordan was able to knock down a shot from behind the 3-point line, I thought we did a pretty god job of execution late but if we can't take care of the basketball earlier in the game we're going to keep putting ourselves in these kinds of situations, 10, 12, 15 behind," Robinson said.
In addition to Heuir's 19 points Stevenett finished with 16 while Wade Colie had 10 off the bench. Heuir led all players with six assists, while Stevenett and Jayson Cheesman each had five rebounds to lead SUU.
Mathais Ward led four Grizzlies in double-figures with 20 points.
SUU plays next at Montana State on Monday night.
-- SUU --