Montana head coach Travis DeCuire made sure to be careful with the non-conference minutes of senior center Jamar Akoh. Nursing an ailing wrist suffered in UM’s preseason scrimmage, Akoh played in the Grizzlies’ opener against Georgia State, then missed most of the next month.
Akoh returned against UC Irvine and North Dakota State but was a late scratch against Arizona.
If the opening weekend of Big Sky Conference play was any indication, letting Akoh heal in preparation for league play was the right idea.
The 6-foot-8, 255-pounder bullied his way to 45 points and 15 rebounds over the weekend, including 23 points and six rebounds Monday night to pace the Grizzlies to an 89-76 win at Southern Utah.
The Cal State-Fullerton transfer and third-team All-Big Sky selection a season ago fouled SUU junior Andre Adams out in 10 minutes. With the 6-foot-9 Adams on the bench for the final seven minutes, the Griz went to Akoh on the block with ease. Akoh, who finished Monday 10-of-14 scored 15 of his points in the second half as the Griz took a 10-point lead and turned it into a comfortable cushion.
The victory is Montana’s 18th in its last 20 regular-season Big Sky games, including two straight to start this conference slate. UM is 9-4 overall.
Southern Utah, still playing without arguably its best player in Dwayne Morgan, have now lost six of its last eight and three in a row. SUU is 0-2 in Big Sky play following Saturday’s 92-62 drubbing at the hands of Montana State.
Montana senior point guard Ahmaad Rorie helped the Griz set the tone early. He scored 14 of Montana’s first 21 points over the first eight minutes of the game. He did not score for more than 23 minutes of game time before hitting his first 3-pointer of the second half with eight minutes to play that extended a UM run and gave the visitors a 72-57 lead.
The former Oregon transfer finished with 23 points on 9-of-17 shooting. He hit three 3-point attempts and dished out seven of Montana’s 16 assists.
The Griz were efficient from inside and out, hitting 8-of-22 shots from beyond the arc, scoring 38 points in the paint and shooting 53.1 percent (34-of-64) overall.
Kendal Manuel came off the bench to hit five of his seven shots and scoring 15 points, the third-highest point total of the season for the former Oregon State transfer. Manuel also dished out five assists.
UM senior Michael Oguine scored 12 points, the fourth Griz in double figures.
Southern Utah senior Brandon Better scored 15 of his team-high 21 points in the first half. He hit nine of his 10 of his 11 free throw attempts as SUU hit 28-of-33 from the stripe. Boise State transfer Cameron Oluyitan chipped in 13 points but committed six of SUU’s 17 turnovers.
Montana plays its third league game in six days when it hosts Sac State on Thursday night at Dahlberg Arena.