BOISE — Utter domination.
Montana made an early statement and then controlled Weber State in a 78-49 demolition Friday in the semifinal round of the Big Sky Conference men’s basketball tournament at Century Link Arena.
Bobby Moorehead blocked Weber State’s first shot attempt, Michael Oguine got a block on the Wildcats’ second possession, and the Grizzlies never looked back. UM never trailed and led the game for 38 minutes, 56 seconds.
“Blocks are fun. Our coaches don’t like blocked shots, because we get called for fouls a lot. They want us to just wall the shot. When they don’t call the fouls, it feels pretty good,” Moorehead said. “And a blocked shot brings so much energy. It just gets us all going, especially when we get out in transition after a block. I think Mike saved my block from going out of bounds, and then we were just going. It just brings a lot of energy, and it’s super fun.”
Montana put on a defensive clinic against the Wildcats, limiting Weber State’s powerful offense to just 22 points on 32.1 percent shooting in the first half. WSU’s Jerrick Harding, who ranked second in the Big Sky Conference this season with 21.9 points per game, was scoreless at halftime.
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Ahmaad Rorie, Montana’s do-everything point guard, shut down Harding on one of the end of the floor, and exploited Weber State’s defense on the other. Rorie made his first seven shots of the game on his way to 18 first-half points.
“It’s pretty crazy, especially since he was guarding arguably the best scorer in the league, Jerrick Harding,” Moorehead said of Rorie. “But his energy has been ridiculous these last two games, and I think that’s part of the reason we’re 2-0 in this tournament right now. Just seeing that and then him scoring 28 and six assists or whatever, it’s just incredible. For him to go out and lead us like that with his energy and then be able to score the ball and guard is incredible, so we’re looking for the same from him (Saturday).”
Rorie was sensational on Friday, one day after letting the game come to him. Against Sacramento State in the quarterfinal round, Rorie scored just three points in the first half before adding 14 huge points in the second.
He was the aggressor from the get-go on Friday, driving to the basket, hitting pull-up jumpers and making 3 of 4 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes.
“I felt like I just owe it to my teammates,” said Rorie, who finished Friday’s win with 28 points, seven rebounds and six assists. “I feel like I’ve been playing pretty good, but trying to come out and lead them, do whatever I can to help them win — just trying to stay intense, stay on edge. I feel like that’s the best thing I can do, that’s the best thing that gets myself going when I’m able to do that.”
UM led by as many as 22 points in the first half and took a 42-22 lead into the halftime break. Weber State brought the league’s No. 1 scoring offense into the semifinal round, but Montana’s dominant defense rendered the Wildcats virtually helpless.
As impressive of first half as the Grizzlies played, there were still three previous comebacks to keep in mind. The Griz built 20-point leads against Weber State in both regular-season meetings, only to see the Wildcats battle back in the second half. Montana won the two regular-season game by three and seven points.
And on Thursday, Montana built a 21-point lead against Sacramento State but ultimately allowed the Hornets to get within four in the final minute.
“We just wanted to put together two halves,” Rorie said of the difference Friday. “And I feel like that’s really the first time we did that all year besides when we played Northern Colorado the first time and South Dakota State.”
The Grizzlies kept their foot on the Wildcats’ throat, further suffocating Weber State’s offense in the second half. The Wildcats made just 30.8 percent of their second-half shots, totaling 27 points after the break. UM slowed offensively but still grew the lead to as many as 37 points with six minutes remaining.
“Probably our best defensive performance all year, maybe in my time here if I were to be honest with you,” said Montana coach Travis DeCuire. “That’s a pretty explosive offense that we were able to hold to 49 points.”
Weber State finished the game making just 17 of 54 field goal attempts (31.5 percent), and Harding had just six points. Brekkott Chapman led the Wildcats with 16.
Moorehead had a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Sayeed Pridgett added 14 points for the Grizzlies. Montana (25-8) will now meet Eastern Washington in the Big Sky Conference championship at 6 p.m. Saturday. The winner will clinch the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“We all experienced that last year, what it felt like to go to the NCAA Tournament, and that’s just the most amazing feeling. You can’t really describe it,” Moorehead said. “I want that for us seniors again, and I want that for the younger guys who haven’t experienced it yet. It’s pretty easy to get your mind ready for these games, because there’s nothing else you can do except play your hardest. You give everything you’ve got and you hope it works out.”