Friday night started with a celebration, commemorating Montana's 2018 Big Sky championship, and closed with a bigger one, as the Grizzlies opened the 2018-19 basketball season with a statement victory over Georgia State, 81-74.

The highly anticipated showdown lived up to its billing with two 2018 NCAA tournament teams and unanimous favorites to win their respective conferences battling it out for 40 minutes.

The two teams were tied at 58-58 with under 6 minutes to play, but that's when Montana found its second gear, using a 9-2 run to take control of the contest.

"They're a good team," head coach Travis DeCuire said of Georgia State. "They're confident and they know how to win. When you bring a championship team in this early in the season, you're going to get a championship environment."

The Grizzlies led for 18 minutes, 51 seconds of the first half, but a 13-5 Georgia State run to close the period meant that the two teams were tied at the intermission (33-33). Montana's offensive lull carried over into the second half, as the Panthers scored the first six points, and nine of the first 11, to take a seven-point lead.

"We missed some free throws, missed some open shots and turned the ball over," DeCuire said. "We got stagnant, and that's when they got going. From there, it was a chess match."

Montana buckled down, and over the next 3:33, the Grizzlies used a 12-4 run to regain the lead, featuring back-to-back three-pointers from sophomore Timmy Falls.

"Timmy Falls is a gamer," DeCuire said. "He's full of confidence. More than what he did for us offensively, I thought his defense gave us some momentum and got us in transition, and that led to his open threes."

Neither team would lead by more than two points over the next 7 minutes, but that would change with a Jamar Akohand-one with under 6 minutes to play. That gave the Grizzlies a 61-58 lead, and sparked a 9-2 run that put the home team on top for good.

Georgia State would get within a single possession multiple times, including with 48 seconds to play, but an Akoh dunk on the other end, followed by five made free throws closed out the win.

Montana shot 50 percent from the floor in the second half, while limiting the Panthers to 35-percent shooting. Montana had five players score in double figures, led by Akoh's 22 points.

With the victory, Montana extended its home winning streak to 16 games dating back to the 2016-17 season. The Grizzlies will now have a quick turnaround, hosting Montana Tech on Monday night. Fans can get in free by bringing five canned-food items.

Additional notes:

  • Akoh led all Grizzlies with 22 points on 7-of-8 shooting, in addition to eight free throws. The senior also had eight rebounds.
  • In addition to his 15 points, Michael Oguine had a team-high 10 rebounds and a team-high-tying four assists and two blocks.
  • Ahmaad Rorie scored 14 points, dished out four assists and stole a pass, but the lasting images from Friday night were his two thunderous dunks.
  • Falls tallied 10 points and a team-high-tying four assists.
  • Billings native and Oregon State transfer Kendal Manuel got the clearance by the NCAA to play this season, a welcome surprise to Griz fans. Manuel was originally expected to have to redshirt due to transferring, but instead saw 13 minutes, knocking down two three-pointers and recording a steal.
  • In his 11 minutes of action, Donaven Dorsey had two points and a pair of rebounds. It marked his first time scoring in 975 days. Dorsey sat out the 2016-17 season due to transferring and missed all of 2017-18 due to injury.
  • Georgia State's D'Marcus Simonds, the 2018 Sun Belt Player of the Year and 2019 preseason player of the year, scored 30 points. He scored his team's first 10 points, in addition to 17 of its first 24.
  • Three players made their Griz debuts: Dorsey, Kelby Kramer and Manuel. For Kramer, it was his first collegiate contest.