MISSOULA – The anticipation for a new basketball season on the University of Montana campus has been building for months. After one game, the excitement surrounding the Montana Grizzlies men’s basketball team is rising even higher.
Montana opened the year with a resume-building win right out of the gate, finishing strong to take down Georgia State 81-74 on Friday. Both teams won conference titles last year and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, and both teams are heavy favorites to win their respective leagues once again.
A great battle in front of more than 4,000 fans in Dahlberg Arena remained tied 58-58 with just less than six minutes remaining. Then, Montana put together a 9-2 run to build a lead it held until the end. Georgia State climbed within three points with 2:20 remaining, but Michael Oguine responded with a dagger 3-pointer from the corner, and the Panthers never climbed within four points during the final four minutes.
Senior forward Jamar Akoh dominated down low, leading Montana with 22 points while grabbing eight rebounds. But a balanced effort saw five Grizzly players score in double figures. Oguine scored 15 and pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds. He threw down a huge alley-oop dunk on the first play of the game. Senior guard Ahmaad Rorie added 14 points and brought the crowd to its feet with a dunk on Georgia State’s D’Marcus Simonds in the second half.
Simonds was on the wrong side of that highlight, but the junior star gave the Grizzlies plenty of problems. He scored his team’s first 10 points, totaling 20 in the first half and 30 points in the game. His steal and layup through a foul early in the second half gave Georgia State its biggest lead, seven points. But Montana had crawled back to take the lead within five minutes.
One of Montana’s few weaknesses from last season showed up again Friday night. The Griz made only five of 25 3-point attempts against the Georgia State zone. But Montana made up for it with clutch plays down the stretch and plenty of free throws. UM shot 28 for 43 from the line, as the Panthers committed 31 fouls. Georgia State shot just 12 of 24 on free throws on 20 Montana fouls.
The Grizzlies will stay home for a tipoff versus Montana Tech at 7 p.m. Monday. Then they hit the road next Friday for the three-day Islands of the Bahamas Showcase in Nassau.