At first glance it would appear Portland suffered another loss to a team that was much better than them, this time to Montana by a score of 80-65. Watching the game I certainly felt this way. A look at the statistics revealed the game was more competitive than it seemed, though.
In the first half the two teams seemed evenly matched. Portland actually built a small lead in the first 7 or 8 minutes. They were getting stops on defense and making just enough shots to stay ahead. I thought maybe this would be the night it all came together for this young team. However, as the half went on Montana began to make their shots, especially from long range. The Pilots tried to respond but couldn't make threes of their own Their first made one was on their last shot of the half, a shot that led me to exclaim "GOD DA-" when I was cut off by the ball banking in. Since that improved their three-point shooting to 1-of-9 for the half I stand by what I started to say. They found a little more success going inside to the likes of Ryan Nicholas and Thomas van der Mars. At halftime Montana led by seven, 32-25, but a Pilot comeback still seemed possible.
Any hopes of a Pilot victory were dispelled early on in the second half. Montana continued to make superhoops, while forcing more and more empty possessions out of the Pilots. A long stretch in which the Pilots have issues at both ends of the floor is unfortunately a hallmark of Portland's eight losses this year. With 12:44 to play the Montana lead was 14, a 50-36 score, and the Pilots spent the rest of the night trying in vain to get the deficit to single digits. The half was not without some bright spots. Sophomore guard Tim Douglas showed what the future might hold in leading the Pilots with 18 points. Many of these came on ambitious drives to the basket, going around and over defenders to lay the ball in at impossible-looking angles. And Ryan Nicholas, another sophomore, has fully embraced his new role as a starting forward. He leads the team in scoring and rebounding, but beyond filling the stat sheet his work ethic also sets an example for the rest of the team. Even when games get away from Portland he keeps working at both ends, doing what he can. And it actually was nice to see the team pull itself together enough to keep from going 20 or more down, which easily could have happened.
Looking back at the statistics this game was pretty even but turned on a few key areas. Portland actually shot better than Montana at 47% to 42%, but the Grizzlies shot threes at a 50% rate, going 9-for-18. Portland actually only attempted one three the entire second half and made it, improving their mark to 2-of-10 and 20%. In addition to the inability to make or defend the three, the Pilots also suffered that affliction so many young teams do: turnovers. Thirteen of them, to be exact, while Montana committed only 5 (yes, 5). A 13 to 5 score in that area will make life difficult for a team as well. After looking at the box score I was encouraged. Portland still has a ways to go but improvement in just a few areas will go a long way toward winning.
MONTANA 80, at PORTLAND 65 12/17/2011
MONTANA 6-5 (0-0) -- D. Selvig 5-13 3-4 15; K. Jamar 5-10 2-6 15; W. Cherry 4-12 10-12 20; S. Stockton 2-4 4-4 9; A. Steward 3-6 3-3 10; M. Ward 4-6 1-2 9; B. Reader 0-3 0-1 0; J. Wood 1-2 0-2 2; K. DeShields 0-1 0-0 0; J. Gregory 0-0 0-0 0; K. Henderson 0-0 0-0 0; E. Hutchison 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-57 23-34 80. PORTLAND 3-8 (0-0) -- R. Nicholas 6-12 2-2 14; D. Rodgers 3-6 0-0 6; N. Mitrovic 4-7 2-2 11; T. Douglas 6-9 6-8 18; K. Bailey 3-5 0-0 7; D. Cason 1-4 0-0 2; T. van der Mars 2-6 1-2 5; T. Riley 0-4 0-0 0; E. Waterford 0-0 0-0 0; J. Bailey 1-1 0-0 2; D. Carr 0-1 0-0 0; K. Thieleke 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-55 11-14 65.
Three-point goals: UMT 9-18 (J. Wood 0-1; D. Selvig 2-5; S. Stockton 1-2; M. Ward 0-1; W. Cherry 2-5; K. Jamar 3-3; A. Steward 1-1), PORT 2-10 (N. Mitrovic 1-4; T. Riley 0-3; T. Douglas 0-1; K. Bailey 1-2); Rebounds: UMT 29 (D. Selvig 12), PORT 37 (R. Nicholas 7); Assists: UMT 15 (K. Jamar 7), PORT 8 (T. Douglas 3); Total Fouls -- UMT 17, PORT 25; Fouled Out: UMT-None; PORT-K. Bailey.