“I have to give Montana credit, because they earned it,” said head coach Randy Rahe. “I couldn’t be more proud of our team.”
Kyle Tresnak opened up the scoring on WSU’s first possession of the game, then the Wildcats scored off a UM turnover to take an early 4-0 lead.
Once again, WSU looked to establish a strong inside presence early. Along with Tresnak’s early basket, Frank Otis drew an inside foul and converted two foul shots to give the Wildcats a 6-5 lead. The Grizzlies came back and retook the lead, going up 12-9 with 14:30 left in the first half.
With 11 minutes left in the half, the Grizzlies had their biggest lead of the game up to that point at 20-14. After going up early, WSU went cold offensively and struggled defensively, allowing the Grizzlies to push their lead to nine points with nine minutes left in the half.
It looked as if UM was starting to pull away, but Scott Bamforth took control for the Wildcats to keep them in the game. He hit back-to-back threes to cut the Grizzly lead to five with five minutes left in the half.
After trailing for much of the half, WSU went into the locker room with the score tied at 34.
The Grizzlies opened up the scoring in the second half, but then WSU went on a run and built a five-point lead. UM kept the score close and retook the lead with a determined play from Will Cherry. Cherry got a steal, then had his shot blocked, regained the ball and hit a layup to put UM up by one with 10:40 left.
After UM took the lead, the following few minutes were frantic, with each team committing multiple turnovers.
With seven minutes left in the game, UM held a 52-50 lead. The Grizzlies went on a six-point run before WSU cut the lead to three with 4:30 left in regulation.
With the Wildcats down five and six seconds on the shot clock, Davion Berry hit a clutch three from well beyond the 3-point line. Then, on the next possession, Berry drew a foul while going to the line with a chance to tie the game. Berry missed both shots after being forced to reshoot the first. The official was distracted by UM head coach Wayne Tinkle.
On WSU’s next possession, Berry was called on a questionable foul, which swung momentum to the Grizzlies. Gelaun Wheelwright gave WSU a late chance, hitting a three with 12 seconds left to keep the Wildcats within two, but it wasn’t enough for WSU.
As the final buzzer sounded, WSU senior Bamforth looked emotional as he left the court for the final time.
Rahe said he was sad to see the season end with the Wildcats coming up short in Montana. He also said he thought the team had a great season and at times exceeded his expectations.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our team,” Rahe said. “This one is hard and it hurts. Our kids have invested into our program and it’s painful. I thought we competed hard; we just came up a couple of plays short.”
While UM has booked its place in the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats will wait to hear whether they will be invited to the NIT or the CIB tournaments.