MISSOULA – Montana has blown past four opponents in the Big Sky Conference, and the Grizzlies sit atop the league after two weeks. A new emerging star is a big reason why.
Jamar Akoh keeps putting up better and better performances for the Grizzlies, but even he didn’t realize just how well he played on Saturday night.
“It felt good,” said the junior. “I really didn’t know how many points I had at the end of the game. Somebody came up to me and told me. I kind of shocked myself.”
Akoh scored 34 points in a win over Northern Colorado, the most for a Griz player in eight seasons. The maroon and silver expected the 6-foot-8 forward to provide a big boost this year, but maybe not this big.
“Scoring is one thing. It’s already difficult,” said head coach Travis DeCuire. “But to play 33 minutes, I’m impressed with his ability to go out and defend the way we’re doing and then still sustain a high field goal percentage.”
Akoh shot made 11 of 16 field goal attempts versus the Bears.
When asked if he saw this coming, junior forward Bobby Moorehead shook his head: “He got off to a slow start, so I didn’t even expect it in the beginning. But now that everything is clicking, once we get it in there it’s almost an automatic bucket. If a team doesn’t go double team him, then I don’t really know what they’re doing, so I think it’s just going to help open up shots for us.”
Akoh has averaged 23 points and eight rebounds over the first four conference games, by far the best stretch of his college career. As a sophomore at Cal State Fullerton, the Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. native only put up six points and six rebounds a night, and he felt he needed a change.
After doing his research, he found a program that often competes for championships that needed some interior help in Missoula.
“I think I’m more aggressive than I was my sophomore year,” said Akoh. “And I think I’m in a system that allows me to kind of be dominant and demand the ball and make plays.”
Akoh often impressed in practice last season, when he had to sit out because of transfer rules. The Griz didn’t ask him to become a star. They already had Ahmaad Rorie and Michael Oguine in an experienced backcourt.
But now with a powerful inside presence, Montana is playing its best stretch of basketball in years.
“I think now we’re starting to see what good chemistry between the inside and outside game looks like,” said DeCuire.
“We’re sharing the ball pretty well right now,” added Akoh. “Nobody seems to care who’s scoring or who’s getting the assist or rebounds or whatever. We’re just playing, and I think that’s part of what’s going on. Anybody can have a good night.”
Akoh and the Grizzlies try to keep it rolling on the road this week. They’ll take on Sacramento State at 8 p.m. Thursday and Portland State at 2 p.m. Saturday.