GAME NOTES: The South Dakota State Jackrabbits begin a six-game road trip on Saturday night, as they pull into Missoula to take on the Montana Grizzlies.
The Jackrabbits have found plenty of success in the early going with wins in eight of their first 11 games. Since losing two of its first three, SDSU has been red-hot in recent weeks with victories in seven of its last eight contests, most recently downing Cal State Bakersfield, 69-63.
Montana has been up-and-down on the campaign (4-3), but it has defended its home court well with wins in all three contests at Dahlberg Arena, including a 78-58 triumph over Carroll last Saturday. The Grizzlies open Big Sky Conference play next week, and their only other non-league game during the regular season will be a BracketBusters matchup on Feb. 23.
Montana has won all three previous meetings with South Dakota State, the most of which being a 70-61 decision in November of 2007.
SDSU's matchup with Bakersfield was hotly contested until the Jackrabbits broke a 63-63 tie with a minute and a half remaining by closing on a 6-0 run to capture the victory. After missing the previous two games due to injury, Nate Wolters returned to the lineup in a big way by posting 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Tony Fiegen tallied 16 points and eight boards in the win, while Brayden Carlson and Jordan Dykstra tacked on 12 and 11 points, respectively. On the season, SDSU has been a potent squad at the offensive end, shooting 47.4 percent from the field for more than 75 ppg. Wolters has been one of the nation's premiere guards. Not only does he lead the team in scoring (20.4 ppg), but he also connects on 47.6 percent of his total shots, grabs 6.0 rpg, dishes out 6.1 apg, and logs 2.1 spg. Dykstra (13.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Fiegen (10.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg) provide a steady inside presence for the Jackrabbits.
Montana had one of its more balanced efforts of the year in its latest outing against Carroll, shooting 48.4 percent from the field in the 20-point victory. Spearheading the attack was Mathias Ward, who shot 10-of-17 from the floor en route to a season-high 26 points. Keron DeShields was 3-of-4 from behind the 3-point line for 15 points, all off the bench, and Kareem Jamar added 14 points, seven assists and five rebounds. The team's offensive attack has been solid this season, posting a .457 field goal percentage and averaging 69.4 ppg, but the defense hasn't always kept foes off the scoreboard (67.9 ppg). No matter which way you shake it, Jamar has been the Grizzlies' best player through the first month, as he leads the team in scoring (14.9 ppg), rebounding (6.4 rpg) and assists (4.6 apg), all while shooting 50.8 percent from the field and 44.0 percent from 3-point range. Ward has also been impressive with 14.6 ppg.
This matchup features of two teams expected to be big players in their respective conferences this season. Wolters will be the best player on the floor, and his return to the lineup is definitely much-needed for SDSU, but it may not be enough to topple Montana in front of the hometown faithful.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Montana 77, South Dakota State 75
12/15 10:35:34 ET
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