A hot-shooting offense and turnover-inducing defense helped Montana coast to an easy 89-68 conference win over Northern Colorado Thursday night at Dahlberg Arena.
The victory is the 50th of head coach Travis DeCuire‘s three-year career, making him the second-fastest coach to reach the half-century mark in program history behind his mentor Blaine Taylor.
Montana (9-9/4-1 BSC) put together its best three-point shooting performance of the season, knocking down 15 triples while dishing out 19 assists. They also caused havoc on defense, forcing Northern Colorado (7-9/3-2 BSC) into 13 turnovers.
A balanced and efficient offense from Montana that saw four different players reach double figures clicked from the start as Montana scored 50 points in the opening half. The 89 total points were a season high for the Griz, who picked up their third-straight win and avenged a surprise loss to the Bears at home last season.
“We needed to pay our dues last year,” said DeCuire. “I think the team was focused on both sides of the ball, we shared the ball, we got really good shots. I think we executed offensively as well as we have all year in terms of getting the shots we wanted on every possession, and that’s huge. It shows that we’re headed in the right direction.”
Michael Oguine, who remained in the game after a hard collision after diving into the stands for a ball in the first half, put together a highlight-reel worthy performance, throwing home a couple of dunks and scoring a season-high 18 points on 70 percent shooting. He also had some big plays defensively in a complete performance.
Ahmaad Rorie reached double figures for the eighth straight game, leading Montana with 19. Walter Wright also had an efficient scoring day coming off the bench, adding 16 points from going 5-of-7 from the field.
The three-point barrage was led by senior Jack Lopez, who knocked down six triples to tie his career high, accounting for all 18 of his points. He also added six rebounds.
“We tweaked a couple of things to get him more looks. Also, the way they defend, they were committed to taking away penetration, so we just staged some shooters across the street,” added DeCuire. “We staged probably four of his first five attempts, and when he gets his feet set that thing goes in.”
The Griz saw a solid effort from Fabijan Krslovic as well, who filled his stat sheet with a well-rounded six points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals.
And it was that frontcourt combo of Krslovic and Lopez that started things strong for Montana. Krslovic opened with a jump hook in the lane and followed that with back-to-back assists on Lopez three-pointers as the Griz jumped out to an 8-0 lead.
Montana built the lead up to 16 points, but Northern Colorado finally came alive on offense led by Jordan Davis, going on a 13-5 run to get back within single digits at 26-18.
The game wouldn’t stay close for long. The Grizzlies put together two runs in which they scored at least eight unanswered points and entered the halftime break ahead 50-30.
Offensively, Montana stayed hot early in the second half, building a 30-plus point lead with about 10 minutes remaining.
Northern Colorado would find an answer, however, going on a 14-0 run that lasted over four minutes to cut the Griz lead to 18, leading DeCuire to opt for a time out he might not take ordinarily.
“There were some things I didn’t like that were going on out there. We needed to tighten up the ship. One thing leads to another, and when we look at teams that are trying to win championships, It’s not about just this one game. It’s about Saturday; it’s about next Thursday.
“We need to build, and we need to be a better basketball team tonight than we were last Saturday, and I saw us take a step back for about a five-minute stretch in the second half, and we weren’t very happy about it, so we needed to talk about it.
“But we’re good. I’m happy with my team. We played phenomenal basketball tonight, and we’re looking forward to Saturday.”
Lopez buried his sixth triple of the night to end the Bear’s run, giving the Grizzlies an 80-60 lead with just over four minutes remaining. It was smooth sailing for Montana the rest of the way as they coasted to the 89-68 win.
Putting a punctuation mark on the game was redshirt freshman Trever Spoja (son of former Griz Chris Spoja) coming off the bench to drain his first career three-pointer late in the game. Also getting into the score column for the first time this season was Florence, Mont. native Aaron Misipeka-Ward, who hit a pair of free throws.
“Anything we do successfully this year, they’re as important and have played as big of a role as anyone on our team,” said DeCuire, giving the nod to his bench. “They’re phenomenal kids, and it’s a pleasure to have them, so it was good to see them get some points.”
Montana will look to extend its winning streak to four games Saturday against preseason Big Sky MVP Quinton Hooker and North Dakota, who defeated Montana State in Bozeman Thursday night.