Photo by Will Hopkins | Elevated Media
BOISE, Idaho — The No. 4-ranked Montana Grizzlies are no stranger to big games in the Big Sky Basketball Tournament, and they laid that out in the quarterfinals against the No. 5 Idaho State Bengals Monday night, taking a hard-fought win 83-74.
The Griz were led by none other than redshirt senior guard Aanen Moody, a transfer from former Big Sky school Southern Utah. The North Dakota native had the game of his life in his return to Boise, dropping career highs with 28 points and seven assists.
Moody said he knew exactly when figured he was going to be hot this game.
“When I woke up,” Moody answered.
Moody and the Grizzlies mounted several runs and weathered those from the Bengals to maintain a lead for most of the game. After starting 1-for-6 shooting, Montana went on a 7-0 run that started what became a shootout for the early parts of the opening half.
Idaho State responded with a 6-0 run to tie it up at 11 led by the superhuman abilities senior guard Brock Mackenzie displayed. The Division II transfer from Point Loma was unstoppable in the first half, shooting a perfect 6-for-6 from the floor and hitting both his 3-pointers.
Mackenzie got a chance to play an extra year through COVID eligibility.
“I just got to thank God for blessing me with the opportunity to play a fifth year and keeping me healthy for all my five years.”
Mackenzie led Idaho State to its largest lead of six points midway through the half, but Montana’s staunch defense kept everyone else at bay. The Grizzlies retook on another 7-0 run and kept the Bengals scoreless for five whole minutes. The back and forth never ceased as Idaho State countered with a 6-0 within the next two minutes and kept Montana from scoring in the next three.
Moody took over at the end of the half by scoring the last seven points for Montana, including a tough 3-point buzzer-beater to tie the game at the half.
[HALFTIME] Montana 34 – Idaho State 34
Another Big Sky buzzer-beater. Aanen Moody hits the buzzer to tie the game and get up to 14 points.
Moody had Montana’s last 7 points.
Mackenzie leads Idaho State with 16 points.#BigSkyInBoise | #BigSkyMBB pic.twitter.com/2VtPygyl2u
— Brenden Martin (@BrendenMartin_) March 7, 2023
The Grizzlies never let that run stop coming out of the locker room. Montana muscled its way to the rim and converted and-one opportunities multiple times. Redshirt junior and Colorado State transfer Dischon Thomas capped off a 7-0 run with a 3-point play, followed by a pair of and-ones for junior guard Brandon Whitney in the first seven minutes of the half.
Brandon Whitney 💪#GrizHoops #BigSkyInBoise #GoGriz pic.twitter.com/a5lZt0Azkk
— Montana Griz Basketball (@MontanaGrizBB) March 7, 2023
Montana’s defensive power showed out yet again, especially against Mackenzie in the first five minutes when it limited him to just one shot. Mackenzie didn’t stay quiet for too long, reigniting the Bengals with a 4-point play to cut the lead to 54-52 with 12:42 remaining.
BIG SHOT BROCK BACK AT IT AGAIN. 4 POINT PLAY🎯 pic.twitter.com/KPylc4dzMt
— Idaho State Athletics (@ISUBengals) March 7, 2023
“I knew my team was expecting me to step up in these moments,” Mackenzie said. “Fortunately for me, the ball was going in the hoop. I just tried to leave it all out there.”
Both teams ended the game shooting well with Montana shooting a season-high 57.4% and Idaho State having its fifth-best shooting game at 51.9%.
Idaho State head coach Ryan Looney lamented what he thought was a good enough performance to win, at least on offense.
“On most nights that should be good enough to win,” Looney said. “We just had a miserable defensive performance in the second half.”
Montana made 17 of its 25 shots in the second half and got to the line 10 more times than it did in the first. The Grizzlies shot a clean 15-for-18 from the charity stripe.
A turning point in the game occurred midway through the second quarter when junior center Brayden Parker was assessed his fourth foul followed by an immediate technical foul call. Parker sat for an extended period of time. The starter was on the court for only 18 minutes.
Looney said the technical foul was uncharacteristic of Paker
“The official told me that Brayden yelled,” Looney said. “I asked Brayden and he said he yelled at himself. That’s probably more in line with Brayden’s character.”
Montana was awarded two technical free throws that it made, but missed the front end of a one-and-one for the personal foul.
Moody and Mackenzie dueled for the remainder of the game, each reaching a new career high in points. Mackenzie finished with 31 points on 10-of-15 shooting, surpassing his previous high of 30 he set on the road against Idaho in January.
Moody’s previous career-high of 26 points came against Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona in back-to-back games a month ago. Moody said he expects to see a variety of looks from the Lumberjacks when his team plays them in the conference semifinals.
I wouldn't leave him open. That's a new career high for Moody with 28 points. Oh, and he's got six assists and five rebounds. Unreal performance.#GrizHoops #BigSkyMBB #GoGriz pic.twitter.com/VShu4542fX
— Montana Griz Basketball (@MontanaGrizBB) March 7, 2023
“As far as some of their ball screens and the way that they guard, I think we’re going to get a lot of similar stuff as we got tonight,” Moody said. “We’ll see if they try and switch with Carson Towt. If they do that, they’re going to have to double the post. Whatever a team throws at us, we have a solution for.”
Montana has won eight of its last nine games with its only loss against the Montana State Bobcats on the road. No. 2 Montana State will play No. 3 Weber State in its semifinal game on Tuesday.
No. 5 Montana will play No. 9 Northern Arizona in the first semifinal tomorrow on Tuesday, March 7 at 6:30 p.m. MST at Idaho Central Arena. The game will be streamed on ESPNU and ESPN+.