22-9, 10-6 Conf
20-10, 13-3 Conf

Johnson rallies Montana by Weber St. for tourney title, NCAA bid

OGDEN, Utah -- Anthony Johnson wasn't ready to look ahead -- not even to playing in his first NCAA tournament.

Johnson was too busy relishing what he and his teammates had just done, rallying Montana from a 22-point deficit to beat Weber State 66-65 in the Big Sky tournament championship game on Wednesday night.

"Right now I'm kind of confused. It's all kind of just surreal," said Johnson, who scored a tournament-record 42 while leading the Grizzlies back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years. "I'm not even thinking about that. I just want to live in the moment and soak this up a little bit."

Johnson scored 34 in the second half, including the Grizzlies' last 21 points to complete the amazing comeback and stun the tournament's No. 1 seed.

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.

Montana coach Wayne Tinkle said his assistants suggested trying to get the ball inside to 7-foot Derek Selvig or 6-11 Brian Qvale, but Tinkle wasn't going to do anything to break Johnson's rhythm.

"We're going to get it to AJ," Tinkle said. "We're going to ride him."

The ride will continue when Montana (22-9) makes its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006, the season before Tinkle was hired by his alma mater to replace Larry Krystkowiak.

Selvig added 12 points and 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 foul shots, 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 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, allowing Johnson to make the game-winner on the next possession.

After Johnson's shot, 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 again 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."