Story by Griz Information
CEDAR CITY, Utah – Day by day, the Montana men’s basketball team continues to find its form and become closer to the team Travis DeCuire envisions. That continued on Saturday afternoon as the Grizzlies raced out to a 25-point first half lead en route to a 79-49 road win at Southern Utah.
“Our energy, our enthusiasm is at a high level right now,” DeCuire said. “We’re playing together on both sides of the ball.”
After alternating baskets through the first couple minutes, Montana went on an 11-2 run to create some separation, including eight early points from junior Jamar Akoh. That stretch ballooned to a 33-6 run, as the Grizzlies held Southern Utah without a field goal for 12 minutes, 42 seconds and the Thunderbirds missed 16 consecutive shot attempts.
“Our on-ball coverage is tough for some teams right now,” DeCuire said. “I think they had a hard time finding open guys. What they were looking for in the post, we doubled them so they couldn’t go one on one. What they were looking for in ball screens really wasn’t there. They were forced to make some one-on-one plays that we rotated very well.
“When we scrap like that and hustle like that together, it’s going to be hard for teams to get shots.”
At one point during the run, Ahmaad Rorie scored 16 of 18 Grizzlies points, with the junior making 6-of-7 shot attempts, including a pair of three-pointers.
The offense was on point – nine different scorers combined to shoot 49.2 percent – but the defense was the story.
Southern Utah was coming off of its best non-conference record in more than a decade and was 5-1 on its home court. The Thunderbirds entered the contest ranked among the nation’s leaders for scoring, averaging 81.7 points per game, including 99 on Thursday vs. Montana State. The 49 points were a season low by 14 points, marking the second time in three games that Montana has held its opponent to a season-low point total.
The Grizzlies also limited the Thunderbirds to 15 made field goals on 26.3 percent shooting. Both of those categories were also season lows for Southern Utah and a Montana opponent. It marks the second consecutive game that the Grizzlies have set a season best for fewest field goals allowed and lowest field-goal percentage; Northern Arizona made just 16 field goals on 32.7-percent shooting on Thursday.
“Defense wins,” DeCuire said. “We always put ‘D’ up for defense, and next to the ‘D’ we put ‘deflections’. Right now, we’re competing with desperation, and that’s kind of been our motto the last four or five games.”
Another category the Thunderbirds excel in is securing the ball. Their 11.4 turnovers-per-game average ranked 33rd nationally, but Montana forced them into 15 turnovers, converting them into 21 points.
On the flip side, the Grizzlies turned the ball over a season-low six times and made 13-of-14 free throws.
“We’re the aggressor right now, and if we continue to play that way, I think we’ll make it tough on teams,” DeCuire said.
Rorie scored a team-high 20 points, reaching that plateau for the eighth time this season. Akoh (12 points) and Michael Oguine (11) were also in double figures, while Timmy Falls had nine and Fabijan Krslovic and Sayeed Pridgett had eight apiece. Bobby Moorehead had a season-high-tying nine rebounds, while Pridgett added four assists and two steals.
“No letdowns,” DeCuire said of his team’s second-half mindset. “We wanted to stick to the script, continue to compete and play hard. We wanted to win each of the four-minute segments, and we did that.”
The Grizzlies made eight of their first 11 shots to open the second half, shooting 55.6 percent overall in the second period. Despite emptying its bench, Montana led by as many as 34 points in the closing minutes.
Montana will now return home atop the Big Sky standings at 2-0. The Grizzlies have won four of their past five games overall and are unbeaten at Dahlberg Arena this season. Tipoff vs. North Dakota is slated for 7 p.m. on Thursday.
“I don’t know how many teams will sweep this trip,” DeCuire said. “It’s tough. We’re off to a good start, but we have to maintain our focus and continue to get better.”