SEATTLE — In a sort of homecoming for a collection of Grizzlies including Montana head men’s basketball coach Travis DeCuire, UM fell just short at Hec-Edmundson Pavilion on Friday night.
DeCuire, who prepped at Mercer Island in Seattle, and his Griz roster featuring former Tacoma high school stars point guard Ahmaad Rorie and forward Bobby Moorehead entered its matchup against Pac 12 Washington with no fear.
Michael Oguine, who called the game a “must-win” following Tuesday’s 86-68 win over UC Irvine, had a chance to tie the game with five seconds to play, but his second missed free throw led to a UM foul, two Washington free throws and secured a 66-63 Washington victory in front of 5,915.
“We stuck together,” DeCuire told Riley Corcoran on the Learfield Sports broadcast 1290 AM KGVO after his team’s fifth non-conference loss in 13 games. “We told our guys if we did the right things — moved the ball, get in the high post, share, get good shots — we would have a chance.
“It was fun and I enjoyed it. A lot of familiar faces and you always enjoy that. I just would’ve liked a fair shake.”
The visitors hung tough despite not shooting a free throw for the first 28 minutes of the game and shooting just six from the stripe overall. Washington made 17-of-21 from the stripe, including 10-of-14 in the second half. UM dominated the glass, particularly offensively, slipping inside consistently to grab 20 offensive rebounds against the Huskies’ zone.
“We fought,” DeCuire said. “We shot 67 shots and we gave ourselves a chance on the glass with 20-6 on the offensive glass, out-rebound 41-27, we should win. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a team that got 20 offensive rebounds and shot six free throws.
Moorehead’s third 3-pointer of the first half gave Montana a lead with five seconds remaining in the first stanza. Montana fell behind 16-6 because of a 10-0 run by the hosts, but came roaring back thanks to a 12-0 run that included two Moorehead triples. A put-back by Montana post Jamar Akoh — the junior forward scored 17 points and grabbed five offensive rebounds — gave the Griz a 62-61 lead with four minutes, 16 seconds remaining.
The Griz would not lead again despite taking a fourth Power 5 team in as many tries down to the wire. Oguine drew a foul with six seconds to play. He hit 1-of-2 free throws, cutting the Washington lead to 64-63, but his final miss proved to be the last blow the Griz could endure. Matisse Thybulle his a pair of free throws with 1.3 seconds let, UM’s final inbounds try was intercepted and Washington moved to 10-3 this non-conference slate, surpassing its win total from last season.
Montana finishes the non-conference at 7-5. The Griz beat Pitt in overtime but thwarted opportunities at Penn State (70-57 loss), Stanford (70-57), and Friday at Washington. Against PSU and Stanford, UM held leads late in the second half and were in a one-possession game at the under-4 minute media timeout. Montana again had a one-possession game on its hands but let the upset slip away.
“Signs…you can see signs of what we are capable of, the potential of our group,” DeCuire said. “I think we’ve figured out a rotation that will be good for us. I’m excited about what’s in front of us.”
Washington only played seven players in the game and all seven scored at least eight points with a team-high 13 from Jaylen Nowell. Washington did not make a shot after the final media timeout yet still posted a win that surpassed the total in Lorenzo Romar’s last season. Mike Hopkins’ first non-conference schedule in Seattle ends with 10 wins, including over No. 2 Kansas.
Rorie, Montana’s junior point guard who transferred from Oregon, played against his cousin, David Crisp, for the first time in college. The fellow Clover Park alums dueled with Rorie scoring a game-high 19 points on 9-of-23 shooting, including 1-of-6 from beyond the arc in 39 minutes of play. Rorie tied Akoh and senior Fabijan Krslovic with team highs of seven rebounds.
Moorehead hit four 3-pointers, but missed four of his final five attempts. The University High alum finished with 14 points in 35 minutes.
Oguine, UM’s second-leading scorer at 15.3 points per game, finished with a season-low five points in 24 minutes. For the second straight game, his right (shooting) wrist was heavily taped.
“He was banged up — he got knocked down and if he stayed out, he would’ve had to come out, but I prefer him to shoot banged then to pick a shooter for me — so I wanted him shooting,” DeCuire said. “He said, ‘I got you coach.’ It’s hard to shoot free throws when you get knee to knee and you can’t use your legs. But we’ve gotta make those.”
UM’s non-conference was defined by great progress in terms of the style DeCuire desires as well as close calls that ended in disappointing results. Montana’s 7-5 mark is its best in the non-conference since the 2011 winter, yet the Griz could have done even better. Now the team turns its attention to Big Sky Conference play with a goal of earning DeCuire his first NCAA Tournament bid as he enters his fourth league campaign beginning November 28 at Southern Utah.
“We have to rest, be smart and be ready to go because Southern Utah and NAU is the toughest road trip travel-wise in the conference,” DeCuire said. “Whoever wins this league is going to win there. We need to get some wins, we need to be on point. We have some things to tighten up but I think the thing we are doing right now is we are working and we have to stick to it and do it a little better.
“The No.1 thing for us is to minimize the slippage throughout the course of a game. We know what we are capable of, we know what every team brings to the table. Let’s play together, let’s fight together. If we are willing to compete, we will be happy with how this season ends.
Photos attributed. All Rights Reserved.