STORY BY MONTANA SPORTS INFORMATION
FLAGSTAFF, AZ – The Montana Grizzlies won for the third time in their past four games, and more importantly, improved to 1-0 in Big Sky Conference action with Thursday’s 87-69 victory at Northern Arizona.
The win was significant on many levels:
• Montana has won its conference opener in all four seasons under head coach Travis DeCuire.
• The Grizzlies improved to 6-0 against Northern Arizona under DeCuire.
• Montana scored a season-high 87 points and tied its largest margin of victory (18).
• The defense limited Northern Arizona to 16 made field goals at a 32.7-percent clip, both season lows for a Montana opponent.
“I thought we were tuned in,” DeCuire said. “We were executing on both sides of the ball. We got what we wanted on the offensive end, and defensively, we made them work, forced some turnovers early and made them adjust to our pressure.”
Eight different Grizzlies scored, and for the first time this season, a pair scored 20-plus points. Jamar Akoh continued his torrid pace with his third double-double of the season (career-high-tying 23 points, 10 rebounds), while junior Ahmaad Rorie scored 22 points. Rorie reached 20 points for the seventh time this season. Over the past four games, Akoh is averaging 20 points and nine rebounds.
In large part to Akoh, Montana out-scored NAU, 38-12, in the paint.
“We’re going to shoot at a higher percentage when we get the ball in the paint,” DeCuire said. “It opens it up and allows guys like Ahmaad, Mike (Oguine) and Bob (Moorehead) to get shots with their shoulders squared.”
Michael Oguine added 13 points, three steals and two assists, while Sayeed Pridgett had 10 points. All eight scorers contributed in multiple ways, with Timmy Falls collecting four assists and two steals, Fabijan Krslovic adding five rebounds, a block and a steal, Bobby Moorehead collecting five boards and two assists, and Karl Nicholas recording five rebounds, a block and an assist.
“Our depth lately has been huge for us,” DeCuire said, particularly noting the play of Montana’s freshmen off the bench. “Timmy’s an incredible passer. I thought tonight was closer to an eight-assist night. He takes care of the ball and he’s phenomenal against the pressure. Karl’s active on the glass and clogs up the paint. He’s great on both sides of the paint.”
The Grizzlies shot above 50 percent until late in the game, and out-rebounded the Lumberjacks, 42-33. Montana also forced NAU into 19 turnovers, converting them into 27 points, in addition to 13 second-chance points.
Montana jumped out to an early 7-0 lead – with all seven points being scored by Oguine – on its way to a season-high 42 first-half points. The Grizzlies made their first 10 free-throw attempts, and took a double-digit lead with 10:17 to play in the opening half. They led by double digits the remainder of the way, including by as many as 24. Montana never trailed in the contest.
NAU was once again led by its season scoring leader, JoJo Anderson, who scored a career-high 31 points, with more than half (17) coming from the free-throw line.
Montana had been playing its best basketball of the season over the past two weeks, scoring 86 points and shooting better than 50 percent in wins over UC Riverside and UC Irvine, and holding Washington to a season-low 66 points before falling in the closing seconds in Seattle. On Thursday, though, the Grizzlies earned their first road win since Nov. 13 at Pitt, and their first win away from Missoula since Nov. 20 vs. Oral Roberts.
“We’re focused, and I think we’re on the same page and everyone is excited about what’s in front of us,” DeCuire said.
They will try to make it two in a row on Saturday when they travel to Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds were picked to finish last in the preseason coaches’ and media polls, but had an impressive non-conference resume that included an undefeated mark on their home court. Tipoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. MT.