Published March 10, 2010
OGDEN, Utah (AP) — Montana coach Wayne Tinkle shook off his assistants' suggestions to get the ball inside as the Grizzlies tried to rally from a 22-point deficit against Weber State.
Tinkle chose to continue riding guard Anthony Johnson's scoring streak — and it carried the Grizzlies back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years.
Johnson scored 34 of his career-high 42 points in the second half, including the Grizzlies' last 21 points in a 66-65 win over Weber State in the Big Sky tournament championship game Wednesday night.
"We just collectively got it going. I fed off of that," Johnson said. "Things were getting emotional, especially in the huddles. We never gave up — never lost our edge and our effort. We ended up getting it done."
Johnson hit a jumper with 10 seconds left to put Montana up by a point and the Grizzlies completed it with a final stop on defense when Will Cherry tied up Damian Lillard with 2.6 seconds left. The officials called a jump ball and the Grizzlies knew they had the possession arrow and the game, stunning the tournament's No. 1 seed.
The comeback gives Montana (22-9) its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006, the season before Tinkle was hired by his alma mater to replace Larry Krystkowiak.
"We sent the bus back to hotel at halftime and went and got our real team," Tinkle said. "It's unbelievable. Weber was just kicking our tails. We showed not much fight on either end."
Derek Selvig added 12 points and Brian Qvale pulled down 14 rebounds and blocked six for the Grizzlies, who held Weber State to 28 percent shooting in the second half.
After committing 14 turnovers in the first half, Montana had just six in the second, slowly chipping away until Johnson hit what turned out to be the winning shot.
"I feel like I'm kind of dreaming right now," Johnson said. "I'll probably end up watching on TV and it will sink in when we get back home."
Lillard scored 16 to lead top-seeded Weber State (20-10), which led 40-20 at halftime.
"It's hard when somebody's unconscious like that. Even when you have a hand in his face and he's still making it," Weber State's Nick Hansen said. "I don't really think we let down defensively, I think that he just played out of this world."
Johnson took over after Selvig got Montana within 51-45 on a reverse layup with about 10:30 left to play.
Johnson finished 13 for 22 and made all 14 of his free throws, breaking his previous career high by 10 points despite playing the last several minutes with four fouls. The Wildcats knew who was going to take the shots for Montana, but still couldn't stop Johnson — and couldn't shoot in the second half, going 7 for 25.
"We're so used to jumping on AJ's back and letting him carry us. He did it one more time," Selvig said. "It was looking pretty abysmal there for a while. We just had to scrap and got it done."
Johnson broke the tournament record of 39 points, set by Mike O'Quinn of Cal State Northridge against Eastern Washington in the 1998 quarterfinals.
Franklin Session had 10 points for Weber State, but missed seven of his 12 foul shots. He missed twice from the line with 28 seconds left and Weber State up 65-64.
After Johnson's shot put the Grizzlies back ahead, Montana's Will Cherry tied up Lillard and forced a jump ball with 2.6 seconds left, giving possession back to the Grizzlies. Selvig missed his first free throw with 2.1 seconds, then clanged the second off the rim and Weber State didn't have enough time to get the ball back up court for another shot.
Weber State was hosting the semifinals and championship after winning the Big Sky regular season for the second straight year, but fell short of returning the NCAA tournament, instead settling for an NIT berth.
"We will think about that down the road. It's going to take a while to get over this," Weber State coach Randy Rahe said. "It hurts, obviously. When guys invest so much into something, it's supposed to hurt. If they didn't, there is something wrong."