No Jamar Akoh, not problem for the Montana Grizzlies on Saturday night in Pocatello, Idaho.
Playing without their all-conference senior center for the third straight game, the Grizzlies used a pair of suffocating runs, one in each half, to keep Idaho State at arm’s length for the final 25 minutes of an 80-68 win at Reed Gym.
UM junior Sayeed Pridgett continued his dominant play, scoring a game-high 22 points and grabbing a team-high seven rebounds to help Montana earn its 17th straight win over Idaho State. Pridgett was one of five Griz that scored in double figures as Montana shot 55 percent from the floor to earn its ninth straight victory.
The win moves Montana to 12-2 in Big Sky Conference play, 19-6 overall. UM’s win combined with Northern Colorado’s 88-78 overtime loss at Eastern Washington means the Grizzlies are two games ahead of the Bears in the loss column with four straight home games upcoming.
“I think we are in a good spot,” UM fifth-year head coach Travis DeCuire told Voice of the Griz Riley Corcoran following the game. “We are playing really good basketball right now and we are defending well enough to win. We are sharing the ball, executing offensively. We have multiple guys who are stepping up offensively and giving us big nights. And (senior point guard) Ahmaad (Rorie) is our iron man. He is playing a lot of minutes and spreading that ball around. He is making sure the players are in the right places at the right times.”
With a four-game home stand beginning with games against fourth-place Montana State and Northern Colorado next week, the Griz have a chance to secure a third regular-season Big Sky title under DeCuire, including a second straight.
“What I told these guys in the locker room is the future is in your hands now,” DeCuire said. “You have a two-game lead and you have four games at home. You hold down the fort and you hang a banner.”
Rorie, the preseason Big Sky Conference Player of the Year, scored 10 of his 12 first-half points during an 18-2 run that saw Montana convert 10 straight field goal attempts. The Griz got out to a sluggish start, allowing Idaho State to hit its first four 3-point attempts and build an 18-9 lead seven minutes into the game.
Trailing 29-22, UM true freshman Mack Anderson converted in the paint to spark Montana’s elongated first half run. Rorie scored 10 points, Pridgett scored six points and Montana took a 40-32 lead into halftime.
“Very slow start and I think we woke up sluggish,” DeCuire said. “Part of it might’ve been the schedule. If I could adjust it, I would’ve gotten these guys up a little earlier. Shoot around was late. We didn’t have a lot going on this afternoon. You have to be excited to play and I wasn’t sure we were. In shoot around, I tried to light a fire in them. I think we got a couple guys going but not everyone.”
Despite rarely stringing stops together, Idaho State still managed to hang around early in the second half. Junior Brandon Boyd, a slasher who entered the game averaging 20 points over his last 10 outings, drilled a 3-pointer with 17:48 to play to cut Montana’s lead to 44-40. His layup two minutes later kept it at 48-44.
Anderson, a true freshman from Bozeman who played a career-high 22 minutes because he was able to stay out of foul trouble for the first time in Big Sky competition, sparked Montana’s second half run as well.
Following Anderson’s bucket — the 6-foot-9 jumping jack scored a career-high 12 points — UM junior Kendal Manuel hit four of his six 3-pointers as part of a 16-1 run that helped the visitors open up a 73-55 lead with 5:46 left.
The Griz converted 33-of-60 from the floor, including 16-of-29 in the second half. UM dished out 18 assists, led by five each from Rorie and Pridgett. Manuel scored 20 points, his high as a Griz. Rorie scored 15, Anderson added 12 and Oguine scored 11 as the Griz won again despite seniors Donaven Dorsey and Bobby Moorehead and junior Timmy Falls all going scoreless.
“We’ve got so many guys who can put it in the basket, we just have to let each other do it,” DeCuire said. “Ahmaad caught fire during that first half run. A couple of guys made extra passes to get him the ball in some spots. He shot a couple off the bounce, which is what he does.
“In the second half, Kendal caught fire and Mike (Oguine) is setting flair screens and Ahmaad is making the extra pass, turning down shots. These guys are doing an incredible job of sharing right now.”
Pridgett, the reigning Big Sky Player of the Week, followed his monster 29-point, 16-rebound double-double in UM’s 83-80 win at Weber State Thursday by stuffing the stat sheet once again. Over the last four games, Pridgett is 38-of-52 (73 percent) from the floor. He has scored 91 points and grabbed 35 rebounds over that stretch.
“I drew up a play for him to get the ball in the high post and he didn’t’ shoot it, he passed it off,” DeCuire said. “There was a dead ball and I yelled at him asking him why he didn’t shoot it. Ahmaad turned around and said he was scared. Sayeed didn’t like that. So the next time down, we got the ball in there. Then he caught fire.”
He and Anderson are the biggest recipients of extra minutes with Akoh sidelined with a knee injury. Saturday, Anderson converted six of his eight shot attempts while also playing solid interior defense. Balint Mocsan hit four 3-pointers and scored an ISU-high 18 points but the Griz limited Boyd to nine points and held the Bengals to 39 percent shooting.
“Mack has been on the verge for awhile,” DeCuire said. “I think he’s been unlucky on a few foul calls where he’s gotten two fouls in the first half and I couldn’t play him. Then those games were close down the stretch and it’s hard to throw him in. He needed some flow, some rhythm. Tonight, he did very well keeping himself out of trouble which allowed him to play good minutes.”
Montana now prepares for the second half of its rivalry against the Bobcats. The Grizzlies have won 16 of the last 17 matchups against MSU, including posting a hard-fought 83-78 win over the ‘Cats in Bozeman on February 2. Montana State had its four-game winning streak snapped in a 94-82 loss at Weber State on Saturday. MSU enters the Cat-Griz game with a 9-6 mark in league play.
“It’s going to be a dogfight,” DeCuire said. “They are so good offensively. They challenge our defensive principles.
“We have to continue to execute the way we are because they are going to bring the A game. They are playing great ball right now. We will have an excited crowd there, I know and we look forward to entertaining them.”
Photos by Brooks Nuanez or attributed. All Rights Reserved.