Kareem Jamar scored 14 points and nabbed six rebounds to offset the absence of starting guard Will Cherry, leading the Montana Grizzlies men's basketball team to an overwhelming victory against Sacramento State 64–44 Thursday night in conference play.
Jamar, a true freshman, played 35 minutes as four Grizzlies (9–3 in conference, 17–7) shared the point guard duties. Cherry, missing his second straight game because of an ankle sprain, did not dress.
Jamar scored the first two baskets for the Grizzlies, who jumped out of the gate on Sacramento State before center Brian Qvale was forced out of the game in early foul trouble. Without its two most dominant players in Cherry and Qvale, an aggressive Hornets defense kept Montana in check, limiting the Griz to just 33 percent shooting in the first half.
Unfortunately for Sacramento State (3–9, 6–17), its offense remained as cold as ever this season, a frustrating year for the Hornets in which they've averaged only 63 points per game. The California squad's offense failed to take advantage of its defense's strong effort, managing just 23 points before intermission.
"I think they had something to do with that (score)," said Hornets' head coach Brian Katz. "They have a great defense.
"Our defense was pretty good; it kept us in the game," Katz continued. "But the second half was different. The second half came and that was it."
Katz's pressure defense couldn't squash the Grizzlies all night and the return of Qvale to the lineup in the second half sparked a 17–2 run that began to put the game out of reach. Qvale scored 12 of his 14 points after intermission and also finished with six blocks.
"That run was really big because it created doubt in their minds," said Grizzlies' head coach Wayne Tinkle. "We got the ball to Brian Qvale and it established some dominance down low."
The Griz shot 52 percent in the second half and forced 19 turnovers.
Thursday night's victory sets up a Big Sky clash on Saturday when Northern Colorado comes to town. The Bears are 10–2 in conference after beating Montana State 86–77 on the road Thursday, and lead the Grizzlies by a game in the standings. When the two teams last met in Greeley, Colo., in January, Northern Colorado came out on top 63–45. The game was the Grizzlies' first after Jamar's injury.
"We needed to make sure we could get this win and carry it over to Saturday," Tinkle said. "When we got beat there, we were disappointed, but we knew if we took care of business, that rematch would have some meaning to it. And here we are."
The winner of Saturday's heavyweight bout will have control of the conference with only three conference games left to play. The winner of the regular season Big Sky title receives hosting duties for the conference tournament in March.