Montana no match for Wisconsin in 73-49 loss
His inside information didn't help them hang with the Badgers for long, however.
The Grizzlies saw their school record 14-game winning streak snapped with a 73-49 beatdown by the Badgers in their NCAA tournament opener Thursday at the Pit.
Montana (25-7) shot just 38 percent overall and 29 percent in the second half. Their leading scorer, Will Cherry, was held to 9 points on 3 of 14 shooting and had no assists.
The Grizzlies lost for the first time since Jan. 14.
"We said in the locker room, it's been a while since we tasted defeat," Montana coach Wayne Tinkle said. "It was a heck of a run that these guys put together, and I'm awfully proud of that. Getting to this position is great."
The Grizzlies had no answer for All-America point guard Jordan Taylor and his supporting cast. Taylor, who settled for lower numbers across the board as he incorporated three new starting forwards into the lineup this season, scored 17 points, dished out six assists and pulled down eight rebounds.
Ryan Evans led Wisconsin with 18 points and eight boards, and the Badgers (25-9) improved to 10-1 in NCAA tournament openers under Bo Ryan, the winningest coach in the program's history.
Art Steward's 18 points led the Grizzles, who had its best season in two decades. The team's last loss was two months ago at Weber State, the same squad it wiped out by 19 in the Big Sky title game.
The 13th-seeded Grizzlies only held two leads against the bigger, badder Badgers — 2-0 and 5-2 on Derek Selvig's 3-pointer, which was quickly matched by a 3 from Josh Gasser, who scored 12 points.
"Offensively they did a good job of swinging a ball and finding the mismatches early and exploiting us," Cherry said. "They did a good job of driving and getting to the line in the first half. In the second half, they just were just relentless on the offensive end."
Evans averaged 10.9 points in the regular season and topped that in the first half when his 14 points helped the Badgers to a 39-29 halftime cushion.
Wisconsin, making its 14th straight appearance in the NCAA tournament, raced out to a 14-7 lead when Evans swished his first four shots, including a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
"We pride ourselves on creating doubt in the minds of our opponents, and I thought they really did a good job of that tonight," Tinkle said. "Our guys battled back. We made a nice little run there in the second half, and they always had an answer, a lot of dagger plays there in the second half, so proud of my group. It's been a heck of a year."
Mathias Ward sank two free throws and a 3-pointer and Cherry hit another 3 to cut Wisconsin's 16-point lead to 48-38, but the Badgers called timeout and then outscored Montana 25-11 the rest of the way, never letting the Grizzlies push the pace like they wanted.
"They weren't turning the ball over," Cherry said. "We sped them up at times, but I felt like somehow they always kicked it to an open shooter who made a dagger three, and put a little damper in our comeback."
Getting down big against a team as deliberate as Wisconsin spelled the end for Montana.
"We just couldn't get on a roll," Selvig said. "Usually we like to create momentum in transition and just didn't feel like we could get out and run. Our offense ended some plays with fouls when they ran some shot clocks down and got some shots, we fouled them. So we didn't do a good job there."
Still, they tried to look on the bright side of making their second trip to the NCAA tournament in three years.
"This year was a heck of a run," Selvig said. "I'm just really thankful for the coaches and my teammates for making it so special. It's tough to go out this way, but those guys were just ready to play and we just made mistakes when we couldn't, and that's the difference."
Cherry, a junior, had knelt and kissed the NCAA logo at the tournament two years ago. This time, he was all business. He said they'll use this bitter defeat to motivate them for a return trip next year.
"If we can keep working hard, keep working hard and never be satisfied, we'll be back here," Cherry said. "No doubt about that, because we're never satisfied. We're hungry. We do things the Grizzly way like Coach Tinkle is always preaching. The Grizzly way is hard and smart together. If we can keep those things rolling we'll be back here without a doubt.