ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Carlton Bragg Jr.’s double-double and six straight points late in the second half helped New Mexico hold off pesky Montana 72-63 on Sunday.
Bragg had 20 points and 14 rebounds, while JaQuan Lyle added 16 points for the Lobos (7-2).
Sayeed Pridgett totaled 25 points and 10 rebounds and Josh Vasquez scored 16 for the Grizzlies (3-5).
Bragg hit four straight foul shots and had a big block in the midst of a 7-0 New Mexico run that put the Lobos up for good at 56-50 with six minutes remaining.
“It’s just me bringing energy to the team, doing the hard things,” he said. “Picking up the guys and bringing my energy.”
And minutes later as Montana tried to hang around, Bragg hit three consecutive buckets from the interior. The last of those left New Mexico up 64-58 with 3:24 left.
The Lobos earned far more trips to the foul line but missed 11 of their first 19 shots before going 14 of 16 down the stretch. The Grizzlies were 4 of 7 from the foul line.
“We have to do a better job of defending free throws,” Montana coach Travis DeCuire said. “I’m trying to figure out a way to contest free-throws shots. Here and Washington, same thing. They spent a lot of time at the stripe and we haven’t been able to get there so we have to do a better job of getting into the paint, being aggressive and being physical.’
Despite foul trouble, Montana was able to hang around by hanging onto the ball, with just six turnovers, resulting in three Lobos’ points.
“We just didn’t have a lot to of burst (Sunday),” New Mexico Paul Weir said. “We have to find a way to get that back by Wednesday. That being said, to not be where we really want to be physically and grind out a nine-point win against a pretty good basketball team is encouraging.”
Montana: The Grizzlies have battled through a rough schedule, playing road games against Stanford, Arkansas and Washington before visiting Albuquerque, and they still have an upcoming game at Oregon before starting Big Sky play at the end of the month.
“It toughens us up,” DeCuire said. “And it’s a good recruiting tool for us to play good competition. If you want to win conference championships, you have to play at a high level before conference to prepare you for what you want to do in conference.”
New Mexico: Because of a scheduling conflict in Las Vegas in March, the Mountain West begins play early. But after two conference games this coming week, the Lobos return to nonconference play with four home games, including a rematch with down-state rival New Mexico State.
With just under eight minutes left in the first half, Bragg hit his first career 3-pointer, giving him five points, but he credited that with jumpstarting his big game.
“It just went up and I felt it going in and that’s what turned me up. Amazing though. More to come, but not that many.”
Montana: The Grizzlies are home against North Dakota on Friday.
New Mexico: The Lobos are home against Boise State on Wednesday in the MWC opener. The Broncos have won two in a row, including a 72-68 overtime win over BYU.
And Weir is looking for more contested shots when conference play starts.
“We have to challenge all of our shots that way for 40 minutes,” he said. “Every player on the court in order to be the team we want to be, in order to catch the teams ahead of us and Boise is probably in that group. In order to beat Boise,a we’re going to have to be that much better challenging shots.”