Story by Griz Information
MISSOULA – Montana earned an 89-80 victory over Northern Colorado on Saturday evening, improving to 4-0 in Big Sky Conference play.
Junior Jamar Akoh continued his torrid pace, reaching double figures for the ninth game in a row. He took his game to a new level, however, scoring 34 points on 11-of-16 shooting, in addition to 12 free throws. The 34 points were the most scored by a Griz player since Anthony Johnson dropped 42 on Weber State in the 2010 Big Sky Conference championship game.
Akoh also had a team-high eight rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots.
“We’ve seen him revving up throughout the year,” head coach Travis DeCuire said. “We knew they’d play him one on one, and we have enough actions that we thought we could dump it down there and see what happens. Attack the paint is our motto, whether it’s to dribble, drive or rebound, and we did all three tonight.”
Through three Big Sky games, Montana was winning by an average of 26.0 points, including back-to-back 30-point victories – a first for the program in 44 years. At times, in front of a season-best crowd, it looked as if the game was heading toward another blowout.
The Grizzlies led by 15 at halftime and increased that to a 21-point advantage midway through the second half, at one point scoring eight points in a 51-second span.
Leading by 18 with 13 minutes to play, however, there was a scrum underneath the Bears’ basket. After a 10-minute stoppage to review the play, the Grizzlies were called for a personal foul, a technical foul and a double technical that was offset by a UNC double technical. The end result was four free-throw shots for UNC, plus the ball. The Bears converted the review into six points.
They would cut their deficit to single digits thanks to 7-of-12 shooting from three-point range over the final 13 minutes following the technical.
“We had talked about adversity, and that at some point it was going to hit us,” DeCuire said. “We needed to understand that someone was going to fight, or that some things wouldn’t go our way. We had both tonight. We had a team that wasn’t going to die, and we had some adversity with the scrum.”
Montana led by as few as six points, 83-77, with 2:04 to play, and while in some ways DeCuire would have preferred a wider margin, in others, it was a good test for his team.
“I think it was growth for us to handle some adversity, play through it and come away with a W,” DeCuire said.
The Grizzlies closed the door when they needed to, in large part thanks to making their final 17 free-throw attempts. For the game, Montana shot 28-of-33 (84.8 percent) from the charity stripe.
Joining Akoh in double figures was Ahmad Rorie (18 points, four assists), Michael Oguine (12 points, six rebounds) and Sayeed Pridgett (12 points, two steals). For the sixth consecutive home game, Montana made more than half of its shots, shooting 50.9 percent. The Grizzlies out-rebounded the Bears, 40-25, and scored 21 points off of 15 UNC turnovers (11 in the first half). The Grizzlies trailed for just 1:52 of the contest and led the majority of it by double digits.
The game was a tale of two different offensive styles. Montana scored 46 points in the paint compared to just 16 for UNC. The Bears on the other hand, had more three-point field-goals (14) than two-pointers (11).
The Grizzlies are 4-0 to begin Big Sky Conference play for the seventh time in their history, including the second time in the last three seasons under DeCuire. They will play their next three games on the road, traveling to Sacramento State (Thursday) and Portland State (Saturday), before the first edition of the Brawl of the Wild at Montana State (Jan. 20).
“We haven’t done anything yet,” DeCuire said. “We still have work to do.”