The Montana men’s basketball team appears to be peaking at just the right time.
The Grizzlies shot white hot on Saturday, scoring a season-high 95 points and shooting 50 percent from the field as UM blew past Idaho State 95-76 to finish the regular season in style, completing the team’s third conference road sweep of the year in Pocatello.
With the win, Montana (16-15, 11-7 BSC) has clinched a first-round bye at the Big Sky Conference tournament with the No. 5 seed, and will now play Idaho on Thursday, March 9, at 3:35 p.m. (MT) in the tournament quarterfinal.
Against Idaho State, the Griz used a balanced scoring attack led by 27 points and five assists from Ahmaad Rorie to beat the Bengals for the fourteenth straight time.
Now, just seven days after falling to Montana State in Bozeman, the Grizzlies are all of a sudden one of the hottest teams headed to Reno after dispatching Weber State on Thursday.
“There was never any question of what we were capable of, our issue was sustaining it,” said Montana head coach Travis DeCuire, who also added his team is “all about business right now.”
“It was a better defensive effort tonight, and our level of intensity is a lot higher right now than it was earlier in the season. I feel good with where we’re at. We’re happy we don’t have to play Tuesday, it gives us some time to prepare and also some time to rest a little to be fresh. These guys are excited, and we’re looking forward to Reno.”
For the second game in a row, and for only the fourth time this season, Montana shot over 50 percent from behind the arc, draining 11 threes on 21 attempts, with makes coming from six different players.
Oguine was Montana’s second-leading scorer with 19 points, his third-highest output of the season. Wright was the only other Grizzly to score in double figures with 11, but Moorehead, Lopez and Sayeed Pridgett each added eight or more.
“For us right now it’s the shots we’re getting. One is who’s getting those threes and when we’re taking them. We’re not taking them so early in the clock; we’re getting them with our feet set, inside out, shoulders square. That’s the easiest shot in the game when your shoulders are square,” added DeCuire.
“We’ve just been a lot more selective with when we take those shots and how we take them.”
Pridgett also led the team with a career-high nine rebounds, while Gfeller tied his career high with seven. As a team, Montana beat the Bengals on the glass 37-27 and pulled down 14 offensive boards for a total of 30 in the past two games.
Defensively, the Griz outscored the Bengals 18-0 from points off turnovers, forcing ISU into nine giveaways.
The Bengals and Griz started the game evenly, going virtually shot-for-shot, resulting in a 13-13 tie after six minutes of play.
ISU made life in the paint miserable for the Griz during that stretch, however, blocking five shots in the first ten minutes, forcing UM to take it to the perimeter.
The change of attack worked out well as Montana began to light it up from three-point land with Wright and Gfeller hitting back-to-back threes to put UM out to a 24-21 lead.
A minute later, Rorie hit a three to cap a 6-0 run for the Griz, extending their lead to 30-24 with just under nine minutes left in the opening half.
Lopez then ballooned the Griz lead as the halftime break rolled near, hitting consecutive threes in the middle of a 12-2 run that would eventually result in Montana taking a commanding 48-35 lead into the locker rooms at the break.
Montana’s hot shooting streak only continued in the second half, with UM’s 13-point halftime lead never in doubt for the remainder of the game.
Rorie was consistently sharp for UM, scoring 18 of his 27 points in the second period and building a lead for the Griz that grew to as many as 21 points late in the game.
Rorie has now scored a total of 50 points over the last two games after scoring 23 points against Weber State on Thursday. He’s also scored 23 points or more in three of the four games, now averaging 17.7 points per game.
“He’s playing at a very high level right now,” said DeCuire. “Emotionally, he’s involved. He’s as focused as he’s been all year. I think he’s taken responsibility for this team now. As his leadership has improved, we’ve played better.”
The Griz will now travel from Pocatello to Reno where they will begin preparations for a third matchup against the Vandals.
“They’re capable of beating anyone in this league. Victor Sanders scores the ball as well as anyone, and they’re physical,” added DeCuire.
“We need to play better basketball, and I think we’re focused. If we do – defensively – what we did this week in terms of containing penetration, getting shooters, and taking them out of offense, we should be fine. Offensively, we just have to be aggressive in attack.”