SEATTLE — Washington senior C.J. Wilcox overcame a quiet first half, scoring 22 of his game-high 28 points after halftime, and the Huskies held off a late rally to beat Montana 83-79 on Tuesday night.
Wilcox led the way as the Huskies (3-3) turned a six-point halftime deficit into an 80-72 lead before Montana scored seven unanswered points in 63 seconds to pull within one. The Grizzlies’ Chris Kemp hit a layup and got fouled with 11.2 seconds remaining but missed the potential score-tying free throw, and Washington held on down the stretch.
“Our guys showed a lot of fight,” said Montana coach Wayne Tinkle, whose team did not trail until almost seven minutes into the second half, “but we’re not into moral victories.”
Wilcox went 5-for-8 from 3-point range, while freshman Nigel Williams-Goss added 20 points while playing through a quad contusion that he suffered in a weekend loss to Boston College.
Wilcox scored 10 of his points in a span of just over four minutes as the Huskies turned a six-point halftime deficit into a 64-59 lead with 8 ½ minutes remaining.
“I just kind of let the game come to me tonight,” said Wilcox, who scored six points on 2-of-5 shooting in the first half. “I wasn’t trying to force anything early. Luckily, my teammates started going to me (in the second half), and I was able to make shots.”
Montana’s Jordan Gregory had a career-high 27 points behind 6-for-8 shooting from 3-point range. His six 3-pointers were also a career high.
“We know he’s a shooter,” Tinkle said. “Maybe it’s fresh legs. He missed a week of practice (heading into last Friday’s game against San Francisco) because of a sprained ankle.”
Keron DeShields scored 20 points for the Grizzlies but missed the front end of a 1-and-1 after the Huskies intentionally fouled him while leading by three points with 3.5 seconds remaining.
Montana (1-3) shot 59.6 percent from the field but got out-rebounded 34-14.
“We have to get tougher as a team,” Gregory said. “We have to battle with those big guys. We’re going to see a lot more teams with size this season, and we have to be ready.”
Washington needed almost 27 minutes before taking its first lead, having finally pulled ahead 54-53 on a Mike Anderson free throw with 13:02 remaining. Wilcox followed that with a pair of 3-pointers while scoring 10 points in a span of just over four minutes, helping open up a 64-59 lead for Washington.
The Huskies’ lead got as big as nine points, and they were leading 80-72 with 1:14 remaining before Gregory completed a traditional three-point play and finished off a fast break with an assist to Brandon Gfeller as Montana cut the deficit to 80-77 with 55.3 seconds left.
After Wilcox missed a shot at the other end, Montana’s Kemp had a chance to tie the score on a traditional three-point play of his own with 11.2 seconds remaining. But Kemp, who had missed his only other two free throws of the season, was off target again as Washington maintained its 80-79 lead.
“That’s what you live for as a Division I student-athlete,” Tinkle said. “He’s shot them in practice. You’ve got to step up in that situation and knock them down.”
Montana used blistering shooting to take a 42-36 lead into halftime. The Grizzlies made 15 of 21 shots from the field, and 9 of 15 from 3-point range, over the first 20 minutes without ever falling behind. Montana’s Gregory led the way with 15 points after hitting all five of his 3-point attempts in the first half.
“It was kind of a chain effect,” Gregory said. “Once the first couple go in, as a team, you start making shots.”
Said Washington’s Williams-Goss of his team’s defense: “We just had a couple of breakdowns in the first half, which really got them going.”
Montana made 11 of 23 shots from 3-point range for the night.
Wilcox’s five 3-pointers put him within nine of the school career record. He has now scored 20 or more points in five of Washington’s first six games while averaging a team-high 23.8 points per game.
Before the game, Washington announced that sophomore Shawn Kemp Jr., a part-time starter who was averaging 3.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game, has been playing with an autoimmune condition called Graves Disease. Kemp was diagnosed with the condition in September and will continue to play through it.