*** ARTICLE COURTESY OF GRIZZLY ATHLETICS
The University of Montana Grizzlies had five players score in double figures as they opened their 2012-13 Big Sky Conference season with a 62-56 victory over the host Northern Arizona Lumberjacks Wednesday evening in NAU’s Walkup Skydome.
The defending league champion Grizzlies (5-4/1-0) had to overcame an early 6-point (37-31) second-half lead by the Lumberjacks (4-6/1-1), and NAU stayed within striking distance throughout most of the contest.
The teams changed leads just twice and there were six ties, but the Grizzlies took the lead for good on a crucial three-point shot by senior forward Mathias Ward, who nailed the trey with just a couple of seconds remaining on the shot clock. Ward’s big shot gave Montana a 56-53 with 4:44 left to play and the Griz led the rest of the way.
NAU tied the game up for the sixth and final time at 53-53 on a pair of free throws by freshman guard DeWayne Russell with 5:49 remaining. But after that, Ward hit his big three-pointer about a minute-and-a-half later, and the Jacks scored just three more points the rest of the way.
Ward scored 12 points, as did senior guard Will Cherry, and sophomore guards Jordan Gregory and Keron DeShields, while junior guard-forward Kareem Jamar added 10 points. Unfortunately DeShields had to leave the game in the final few minutes of the contest due to an injury.
The Griz trailed 33-29 at halftime, and also trailed in the early minutes of the second stanza, but Ward knotted the contest at 37-37 at the 17:06 mark, and then the teams went back-and-forth until Ward canned his crucial trey with 4:44 to go.
"Our guys just found a way to get it done," said Griz head coach Wayne Tinkle on his post-game radio interview on KGVO Radio. "We made some of the same mistakes that we’ve made in our earlier games this season, but we stayed tough, and got the job done. I think we grew up a little bit tonight."
Jamar had a game and team-high 9 rebounds, while Gregory had a career-high 7 boards, and Ward had 6. Gregory also had 2 blocks – the first rejections of his young career. Ward fouled out with 52 seconds left to play.
Cherry, who had just 2 points in 13 minutes of action in UM’s 68-67 double overtime loss to South Dakota State this past Saturday, had 3 rebounds, 3 assists, a block, and 2 steals, to go along with is 12 points, and he played 35 minutes.
NAU, which opened its Big Sky season with an 87-80 home win over Montana State this past Monday, was led by senior guard Gabe Rogers with 16 points, while Russell had 12. Jacks’ junior forward Max Jacobsen, who had 22 points in the win over MSU, was held to 8 points.
The Grizzlies out-rebounded the Lumberjacks 38-34 – the second time this season UM has had more boards than an opponent.
Montana was 23-of-52 (44.2%) from the floor, made 7-of-20 three-pointers (35.0%), and 9-of-13 (69.2%) free throws, including a pair of critical charity shots by Cherry with 21 seconds to go.
The Griz defense limited the Jacks to 35.2% shooting (19-of[-54) from the field, 33.3% (6-of-18) on three-pointers, while they converted on 12-of-17 (70.6%) shots from the stripe.
The Grizzlies continue their Big Sky slate with a game against Sacramento State in the "Hornets Nest" on Friday, Dec. 21.