MISSOULA — After a promising close to their nonconference slate, the Montana Grizzlies stumbled out of the gate to open Big Sky Conference play with a 87-80 loss to Eastern Washington on Thursday evening in front of 3,924 fans at Dahlberg Arena.
Josh Bannan led the Grizzlies (6-7, 0-1 Big Sky) with 24 points and 10 rebounds while Dischon Thomas added 20 and Aanen Moody poured in 17 points and four assists. The Grizzlies shot the ball at a 42.6% clip from the field and went 14 for 34 from deep but just 14 for 21 from the free throw line.
Eastern Washington led 7-0 to start the game but UM quickly tied it and the game was back-and-forth between the two rivals the entire way. The Eagles had a distinct rebounding advantage over the Grizzlies, out-rebounding UM 45 to 28. The two teams combined for 42 fouls as well.
"I think there's a level of physicality that you have to play with and typically the more physical player is going to get the calls," UM coach Travis DeCuire said. "So if you're giving up offensive rebounds, some of those led to fouls. And then there was way too many touches in the paint. One-on-one on the block and some fouls came there so I think a lot of the discrepancies came from us in terms of breaking down defensively."
UM would go on to lead 39-37 at the halftime and led by as much as seven multiple times in the second half. Thomas made it 71-69 UM with 5:30 left in the game, but Cedric Coward answered to tie it 71-71 all, and the Eagles would soon take the lead and never trailed again.
Angelo Allegri led the Eagles (7-7, 1-0) with 19 points as six EWU players scored in double-digits. The Eagles shot 48.1% from the field but just 5 for 20 from deep, though they were cleaner from the free throw line than UM, going 30 for 34.
"We've scored 80 or more in four out of our last five games, and we've been good defensively," DeCuire said. "Tonight was a little different and I think we've played some teams offensively that are very similar to (EWU) that we held in the low 40's or 30's (shooting percentage) and we should've done that tonight.
"We've been here before and we've dropped the first (conference game) before and been there down the stretch at the end. You just got to learn from it and play better basketball in the second half."
UM will host Idaho on Saturday at 2 p.m. in their second league game. The Vandals (6-8, 0-1) fell to Montana State, 72-58, on Thursday.