Halfway through conference play, and the Montana Grizzlies are still without a loss. Montana improved to 9-0 in Big Sky play on Saturday night, dismantling Northern Arizona, 82-64, thanks to a 28-7 start to the second half.
The two teams were back and forth early, before Montana’s defense clamped down and held the Lumberjacks to just two made field goals over the final 10:57 of the first half, including none over the final 5 minutes. That allowed Montana to turn an 18-17 deficit into 31-24 halftime advantage.
Montana was holding NAU to 37-percent shooting, but the Grizzlies turned the ball over nine times in the opening 20 minutes as well.
“Our level of intensity wasn’t where we needed it to be, and defensively, I thought we were a little bit soft,” head coach Travis DeCuire said.
The Grizzlies made some adjustments after NAU opened the game with a different defensive look than Montana had seen, and picked up the intensity on defense.
Michael Oguine hit a three-pointer just 22 seconds into the second half, but it wouldn’t be his last. The junior hit a career-high seven treys and scored 23 points. As a team, Montana made 11 of its first 12 shots attempts, including 6-for-6 from three-point range, during its 28-7 run to open the second half, turning a single-digit halftime lead into a 28-point advantage, 59-31, just 6:29 into the stanza.
“We were just in rhythm and clicking,” Oguine said. “We were really aggressive. It was a great feeling.”
The highlight of the run came when Oguine hit back-to-back threes during a 25-second span, and then on the other end took a charge, forcing an NAU timeout. The second three-pointer pushed Oguine over 1,000 career points – becoming the 32nd player in Griz history to reach the milestone.
“The thing about Mike is he’s all about us,” DeCuire said. “He’s not hunting for shots. He works hard on defense. When you give things up for the betterment of the team, good things happen to you.”
Oguine first heard rumblings about the 1,000-point mark approaching earlier in the week, and knew he needed 16 on the evening to reach it, but didn’t know that he had done so until a video-board graphic displayed it several minutes later during a timeout, and didn’t know which basket he reached 1,000 on until after the game.
“It’s a real special feeling,” Oguine said. “I want to thank Trav for giving me this opportunity. When I first met Travis, we just had a vision. For him to see me out during this process, it’s been a blessing. I can’t really describe the way I feel right now, but it’s great to be a part of this great Montana history.”
Montana, which has prided itself offensively on being able to get inside and score in the paint, hit a season-most 12 three-pointers compared to just 18 points in the paint. During its 28-7 run to open the second half, the first 24 points were along the perimeter or beyond the arc.
Montana shot 54.8 percent overall, including 42.9 percent from long range.
The team’s lock-down defense was again on display, forcing NAU into 22 turnovers, including a stretch to begin the second half in which the Lumberjacks turned the ball over on six of seven possessions. By the time they finally scored a basket, Montana’s lead was up to 20 points.
“We really ramped up our intensity in the second half,” Oguine said. “That stretch we had, we were picking them up full court, turning them over and knocking down shots.”
Oguine has now scored 20-plus points in back-to-back games, and three of his last four. He also added three assists. Jamar Akoh scored 17 points while Ahmaad Rorie had 12, four assists and three steals. Sayeed Pridgett had 10 points and five boards, and was key on both sides of the ball during the Grizzlies’ second-half run.
The Grizzlies improved to 9-0 at home this season, playing in front of a season-most 5,108 fans. They have now won nine consecutive games overall, which is the ninth-longest active win streak in the NCAA. They’ll look to carry that over to the road next week, facing Northern Colorado (Thursday) and North Dakota (Saturday).
“It’s all about finding ways to get better, and focusing one game at a time,” DeCuire said.