Montana was dead to rights late in the first half, trailing by 22 points and going into the locker room down 20 at intermission. No way could they come back on the road and keep Weber State from punching their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. The final twenty minutes were supposed to be a coronation for the Wildcats, most of America thought.
Well, Anthony Johnson made sure that we all thought wrong.
Johnson went off, scoring 34 of his Big Sky Tournament record 42 points, in the second half as the Grizzlies stormed back to win by the final score of 66-65. Johnson scored the Grizzlies' final 21 points of the game in a run similar to what LeBron James did in Detroit in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals a few years back. The junior college transfer hit 13 of 22 shots from the field and all fourteen of his free throws in the herculean effort. Derek Selvig added 12 points off the bench and Brian Qvale grabbed 14 rebounds for Montana, who makes their first NCAA appearance since 2006. Damian Lillard led Weber State with 16 points but shooting 37.3% from the field eventually caught up with the regular season Big Sky champs.
What kind of seed can the Grizzlies expect? It really doesn't matter after a game like this; the sheer euphoria of winning a game in the fashion that they did should have Wayne Tinkle's team (and their fan base) floating on Cloud 9 right through Selection Sunday. And for those who didn't know Anthony Johnson's name before Tuesday night: you do know. Truly a performance for the ages.
Three Key Happenings
2. Grambling stuns SWAC regular season champ Jackson State. The Tigers of Jackson State were far and away the best teams in the SWAC this season, losing just one of their eighteen conference games. And in facing a Grambling State team that finished 4-14 in league play, many expected Jackson State to move right on to the next round. But thanks to Donald Qualls' 20 points and eight rebounds Grambling became the first eight-seed to knock off the top seed in the SWAC Tournament since 2004. But it's worth noting that in their second meeting the regular season champs won by just five points on the road. Garrison Jackson led all scorers with 27 points but it wasn't enough to make up for Jackson State shooting 26.4% from the field. Grambling keeps alive unfathomable NCAA dreams while the favorites are not headed to the NIT.
3. Robert Morris repeats as NEC champion. The two best teams in the NEC all season long, Robert Morris and Quinnipiac were expected to play to the bitter end in deciding who would represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament. And they did just that, but it was the visitors who found a way to win in the end. RMU, led by Karon Abraham's 16 points, won their second consecutive NEC Tournament crown by holding the Bobcats to 34.8% shooting overall and 3-for-13 from beyond the arc. James Feldeine (17 points) and Justin Rutty (12 points) led the way for Quinnipiac but their other three starters combined to shoot 3-for-16 on the night. Dallas Green's deflection and ensuing free throws gave the Colonials the win, and it's fitting that a senior who's heard Mike Rice preach defense for four years would make the final big defensive play.
Top Three Games
1. Montana 66, Weber St 65 See above.
2. Robert Morris 52, Quinnipiac 50 See above.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Anthony Johnson (Montana) Johnson went off in the second half, scoring 34 for his Big Sky Tournament-record 42 points in the second half to lead the Grizzlies back from a 20-point halftime deficit to win the automatic bid at Weber State.
2. F Luke Harangody (Notre Dame) The senior had 20 points and 10 rebounds in the Irish's 68-54 win over Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament.
3. F Anatoly Bose (Nicholls State) Bose scored 40 points (15-23 FG) in NSU's 62-57 loss to Sam Houston State. No other player had more than six points on the night.