MISSOULA — The Montana Grizzlies aren’t used to playing from behind for large stretches of the second half.
They had trailed for just under 10 minutes through their first 12 conference games. Saturday, they trailed the majority of the second half and were down by as many as nine points.
They closed regulation on a 5-0 run to force overtime for the second time this season. In the extra period, Montana went 6 of 8 at the free-throw line and held Justin Strings scoreless as they hung on for a 71-69 win over Sacramento State at Dahlberg Arena.
Montana moved to 13-0 in Big Sky Conference play with their 13th straight win, doing so despite shooting 38.1 percent, their worst mark in league play.
"You don’t want it to be easy. You never want any game to be easy," said Griz guard Mike Oguine, who scored a game-high 25 points. "You want to work hard and and know that you’re doing the right things to get you in the position that you are. This one was different because I felt we did the right things but they played hard.
"A lot of credit to Sacramento State. They’re a well-coached team, they always play us tough and they really made us work for it. Down the stretch, proud of my guys. We dug in and got some stops in crunch time and came out with the win."
Tied 61-61 heading to overtime, the Griz didn’t make their first field goal in the extra session until Oguine got an offensive rebound and finished with a put-back dunk to give Montana a 67-64 lead with 1:47 remaining.
Sayeed Pridgett followed with a reverse layup to put the Griz up 69-66 after Sacramento State’s 3-pointer was overturned to just two points.
After a missed shot and with Montana up three and eight seconds left, Ahmaad Rorie stole an inbounds pass by Strings. Oguine got fouled but split a pair of free throws.
The Grizzlies' lead was cut to 70-69 when Bryce Fowler hit a 3-pointer from the top of the arc. Oguine was fouled on the inbound, split a pair of free throws with 1.4 seconds left, and the Hornets’ shot from three-quarters court was off the mark.
Oguine scored four of his 25 points in overtime to go with seven rebounds and four assists in 44 minutes.
Strings, who scored a team-high 21 points for the Hornets, missed all five shots he took in overtime and turned the ball over once. He committed a game-high six turnovers.
"I liked how our team fought and our coaches stayed level-headed," Griz guard Ahmaad Rorie said. "We just said we need to get stops when the ball wasn't going through the basket. I felt like we kept fighting. Our defense was what won us the game."
The Griz had a chance to win in regulation. Fabijan Krslovic stole a Strings inbounds pass, saved it over his head, which led to a Montana timeout and play on which he got fouled with 12 seconds left. He made the first free throw to tie the game 61-61, completing a 5-0 run, but he missed the second.
Jamar Akoh was called for a foul — his fifth —on the rebound, but James Herrick missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Oguine raced down the court but missed a layup that hung on the rim before falling off as the clock expired.
"I was a little disappointed in myself for missing that shot in regulation — a shot I practiced a lot," Oguine said. "It felt good — hit the rim a couple times. It was a little disappointing. My teammates did a good job picking me up. I was a little down. They reminded me that we had ... another five minutes to play. This is what we live for. They got me going."
Sacramento State 6-foot-6 forward Joshua Patton made his first start of the season. He started in place of 6-2 guard Jeff Wu, who had started the first 11 conference games, as the Hornets tried to gain a size advantage and limit Montana's post presence.
The Griz had led early in the second half despite struggling rebounding the ball. They'd finish with a 10-5 edge rebounding and 11-7 in second-chance points, but they didn't get their first offensive rebound until nearly four minutes into the second half. Akoh gathered a Rorie miss and found Oguine for a 3-pointer to put the Griz up 41-37.
Sacramento State answered with a 13-0 run to put the Griz down by nine, their largest deficit of the night, with 12:04 remaining. Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa made back-to-back 3-pointers, and Strings followed up a 3-pointer with a fast-break layup after he blocked Rorie in the lane.
The Griz, who have recently blitzed the opposition out of halftime, were on the other end and didn’t retake the lead until overtime.
Krslovic ended the scoreless stretch of 4:51 with a hook shot. Sayeed Pridgett hit his second 3-pointer of the season on the next possession to pull the Griz within 52-46.
The Griz made their run in regulation after Sacramento State’s two big men fouled out. Calvin Martin went out with 6:39 remaining, and Joshua Patton picked up five fouls with 5:59 left and the Griz down 57-52.
Martin finished with two points and five rebounds, and Patton had 14 points, eight rebounds and one block.
The Griz finished with a 14-5 advantage in points off turnovers.
"I think we got tougher tonight," Griz head coach Travis DeCuire told KGVO Radio after the game. "I think we were down, and there's a point where you look at the scoreboard and you go, 'Man, it's not our night.' We didn't do that. Guys stayed calm. They stuck together. They found a way to get a stop when they needed one and get a bucket when they needed one."