Big Sky Conference

Griz outlast Whitworth in season opener

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MISSOULA – It took a small lineup, a second-half surge and a spark from Bobby Moorehead but Montana managed to survive Whitworth’s upset bid.

UM shook off a poor shooting first half to pull away late in a 72-60 victory in its season opener against the Division III Pirates from Spokane on Friday night at Dahlberg Arena.

“I thought they were ready to go in walk-through but what I thought we couldn’t prepare for was their pace in terms of how hard they cut and how fast they cut and how they execute their offense,” Montana fourth-year head coach Travis DeCuire said. “That put a lot of pressure on us. They got us tight going the other way. I think mentally, we were ready to go. There were just some things that we couldn’t simulate in scout

“That’s why I played this game. First half is always going to be a struggle. At some point, we will figure it out, we will get stops and we will go down and put them away.”

After shooting just 30 percent in the first half, UM shot 51.7 percent after intermission, including hitting four of its eight 3-point attempts. Montana trailed 35-34 with 17 minutes to play before Moorehead sparked a 14-2 run with a five-point spurt of his own that helped the Griz push the lead to double digits where it would stay.

Montana junior forward Bobby Moorehead

Moorehead, a long 6-foot-7 junior who assumed a spot in the starting lineup because of season-ending surgery for former Washington transfer Donovan Dorsey, scored 11 of his 14 points and grabbed four of his nine rebounds after halftime to lead Montana to its first win of the season.

“We knew what we needed to do,” Moorehead said. “At the beginning of the game, we didn’t respect our opponent enough. But they are a hell of a program and that was our problem. In the second half, we realized we needed to step up on defense. Helping our teammates out was big. People make mistakes, they get driven by but having your buddy there helps side was huge for us.”

UM junior point guard Ahmaad Rorie buried a corner 3-pointer and converted a layup in traffic on consecutive possessions to push Montana’s lead to 60-41 with 6:50 left, the host’s largest lead of the game. Despite shooting 6-of-16 from the floor, Rorie hit half of his six 3-point attempts to finish with 21 points.

“Defense; Coach talks about how defense is what’s going to be what wins games,” Rorie said. “They are a good team, real good team. Give them props. They run their stuff and that’s why we play them every year. I think our defense started to turn it up a notch and after we started doing that, we started making a couple of shots.

“They run their stuff and all their guys know their roles. They have stretch fours that can shoot. But really they just run their stuff real hard full speed.”

Montana struggled to defend Whitworth’s spread-style offense filled with back cuts for much of the game. The Griz also struggled on the glass; the Pirates out-rebounded their Division I hosts 42-33.

Montana head coach Travis DeCuire

“If you miss 10 free throws and 30 shots, you are going to get out-rebounded unless you sent five guys to the glass and don’t get back on D,” DeCuire said. “That’s more about us missing shots than anything. If you miss 10 free throws, your opponent is going to get the rebound every time so that’s like spotting them 1o (rebounds).”

Whitworth 6-foot-5 junior guard Kyle Roach led the effort on the glass with 10 rebounds to go with 14 points. His put-back with three minutes left cut the Griz lead to 67-57, the closest Whitworth would get down the stretch as the lead stuck between 10 and 14 points thereafter.

“It’s not easy to defend,” Moorehead said. “They are a really well-coached team. We spent like four days on it this week learning their 2-3 offense. I think we kind of took that away. They are going to run their stuff and they are going to run it well and good offense always beats good defense.”

Whithworth junior guard Jordan Lester got to the rim consistently on his way to a team-high 18 points. He added seven rebounds but committed six of the Pirates’ 24 turnovers. That number proved to the difference on a night where the Griz shot just 40 percent (25-of-62), including 7-of-20 from beyond the arc, but committed just 11 turnovers.

For most of the second half, senior Fabijan Krslovic and junior Jamar Akoh, UM’s starting front court, sat on the bench as DeCuire elected to go small to keep up with Whitworth’s pace.

“It’s easier to defend their concepts because they were playing four perimeters,” DeCuire said. “Offensively, it was easier for us to score with the floor spread.

Four days after pacing Montana in its lone exhibition game with 22 points, UM junior guard Michael Oguine shot 2-of-9 from the floor and committed a team-high four turnovers, appearing visibly frustrated all night. He finished with 10 points, six rebounds and four assists in 33 minutes despite his struggles.

For the first 38 minutes of the game, DeCuire used a rotation that included nine players — the starting lineup of Rorie, Oguine, Moorehead, Krslovic and Akoh plus reserves sophomores Sayeed Pridgett and Trevor Spoja plus true freshmen Karl Nicholas and Timmy Falls. Sophomore junior college transfer Niko Bevens plus true freshmen Admir Besovic and Lars Espe played the final minute and a half of action. Besovic scored Montana’s final bucket.

Montana junior guard Michael Oguine

Montana heads to the East Coast this weekend to play in the Legends Classic. UM takes on Pitt in Pittsburgh on Monday before playing at Penn State on Wednesday. The second two games are in Malibu, California against Oral Roberts on November 20 and UC Santa Barbara or Pepperdine on November 21. UM’s next home game is November 26 against Carroll College.

“We need to finish better,” DeCuire said. “We need to finish better offensively and defensively. There is times we got stops and we didn’t get the rebound or we get to the end of the clock and we foul. Offensively, I think we were one or two passes away from getting really high percentage shots. And we settled. Some of that is flow. But it’s early and we don’t get to get up and down too much in practice because I’m trying to teach so much with such a young group. We will have more flow and have a better opportunity to gel going forward.”

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Photos by Jason Bacaj. All Rights Reserved. 

About Colter Nuanez

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate ('09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 13-year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to found Skyline Sports.

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