Not more than 15 minutes after U.S. International’s 21-point loss Monday to Fairleigh Dickinson, Coach Gary Zarecky wore the look of a crop farmer who had spotted a tornado on the horizon.
Calmly, he said, “Losing can become a habit, a real deadly mental set.”
Wednesday, the twister hit.
And like the farmer in the swirling wind, Zarecky sat helplessly at courtside Wednesday minus three players--one had quit after Monday--and watched the remaining nine get blown out by Montana, 104-86, in front of at Golden Hall.
The loss dropped the Gulls to 1-8 and 0-4 at home. And they must embark on a four-game swing on the road--where they’ve won one of their last 18--starting Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa against Drake.
They won’t depart with much on which to reflect. After being tied late in the first half, Montana (5-3 and 3-0 now against USIU) outscored the Gulls, 48-15. The Grizzlies, sparked by guard Gary Kane, who came off the bench to make five three-point shots, built a 33-point lead, 87-54, with under eight minutes to go.
USIU trailed by seven midway through a cold-shooting first half for both teams. But when the pace heated up during the final six minutes, so did the Gulls, who tied the game, 39-39, on a three-point play by guard Kevin Bradshaw with 51 seconds left.
Then Montana’s Kevin Kearney hit a short jump shot and Bradshaw, getting a rare pick and an open shot, missed. Montana got the ball back and Gary Kane, a freshman from Butte, Montana who finished with 20, bombed in the first of his three-pointers from the wing, barely beating the buzzer. Montana led, 44-39.
Zarecky said the first thing he noticed when he got into the locker room at halftime was a “glazed look” on faces of his players. A look quite similar to the one Zarecky wore Monday. USIU chipped the margin down to 18 as Montana cleared its bench. The Grizzlies’ final 16 points came from the free-throw line after Gulls fouls.
Again, one of few bright spots for USIU was the scoring of Bradshaw, who finished with a game-high 39 points and tied former Serra High player Steve Smith as the second all-time leading scorer in Gulls history when he forced in a three-pointer as the game ended. But even Bradshaw saw the storm on the horizon after Montana’s late first-half flurry.
“I think that broke our backs,” he said. “A lot of guys came out in the second half with their heads down.”
“The problem with this team is its mentality,” Zarecky said. “It has no confidence in it’s shooting game.”
Nate Atchison led Montana with 22 points, while Kearney added 20. The Gulls got 18 from forward Isaac Brown and 14 from freshman guard Mark Tuite. Tuite was one of three players Zarecky called his “young guns” before the season. One of the three, Steve Whitehead, quit the team after Monday’s loss.