Big Sky Conference

Griz suffocate T-Birds for 8th straight Big Sky win


MISSOULA — A total of 37 seconds into the second half at Dahlberg Arena on Thursday night, Travis DeCuire furiously called a timeout and ripped into his Griz.

Montana ended the first half a on a 19-7 run to take a commanding 11-point lead in what would turn into a 71-47 runaway by the best team in the Big Sky Conference against a talented but disjoined Southern Utah squad.

But in that moment, DeCuire was not focused on Montana’s eight straight Big Sky victories to open the league campaign nor did he care that his team was in full control of Thursday action for the duration of the second half.

On Southern Utah’s first possession of the second half, Montana defended for most of the shot clock, then Michael Oguine nearly snared a steal. The ball squirted out of his hands and into the paws of chiseled SUU post Jamal Aytes, who put it in for a layup to cut the advantage to single digits.

DeCuire called a timeout, his unblinking stare burning holes through all five of his starters.

Montana junior Michael Oguine scored 22 points in UM’s win over Southern Utah

“That was one of them early Greg Popovich-type timeouts,” Oguine said. “Thirty seconds into the second half? That’s a setting the tone type of timeout. He said it was a perfect possession but we pissed it away at the end. That got us going, like ‘let’s turn the switch, we have them where we want them so let’s finish them.’”

Finish Montana did, smothering yet another Big Sky opponent with its unrelenting defense. Montana allowed Southern Utah to score 49 points and make 16 field goals in its 79-49 victory in Cedar City for its second of what is now eight straight Big Sky wins.

On Thursday, Montana allowed seven second-half field goals and 15 field goals overall while forcing 17 turnovers in holding an opponent to their lowest point total of the season.

“To hold them to 21 points in the first half is huge because you have a nine-point lead and you really aren’t playing very well on the offensive end,” DeCuire said.

“Their depth offensively is a challenge. Most of the time, they have five guys on the court at a time that can score or make an open shot. They spread you out whether the ball is going to the post or ball screens or whatever. You have to be in constant rotation, you have to know where your rotations are coming from and you have to pressure them and force them into some things they are not trying to do.”

Montana won for the eighth straight time and the 10th time in 11 games, moving to 15-5 in the process. Northern Colorado posted an 80-63 win over Idaho, pushing each team to 5-3 in league play. Weber State (5-2 in league) was idol, meaning Montana has a 2.5 game lead with the exact midpoint of the season coming Saturday night. UM hosts NAU, a 77-75 winner over Montana State in Bozeman on Thursday.

The loss drops Southern Utah to 2-6 in Big Sky play, 8-11 overall.

“We had 17 turnovers, and gave them 28 points off turnovers, so no matter how well you play you’re never going to win that game,” SUU head coach Todd Simon said. “So we’ve got to be better in that area, and we weren’t able to complete passes and run our offense because of the turnovers and being careless with the ball.”

The Griz victory comes on the heels of UM’s first sweep of the Sacramento State-Portland State road trip plus a win in front of a packed house against the rival Bobcats last weekend.

Montana true freshman guard Timmy Falls with a steal

“Travis was worried because this week, we were a little flat,” Oguine said. “The story line this week was last week we had Montana State, a big game, Portland State-Sac State, we never swept that trip. Travis’ biggest fear is we would get complacent and flat. Honestly, we didn’t have the best week of practice but I’m proud of our guys because we came out and didn’t let the week we had of practice affect us and we played hard.”

UM started slow and trailed for the first 13 minutes, 12 seconds of the game. Oguine, who finished with a game-high 22 points, hit one of his three 3-pointers right in front of press row to give Montana it’s first lead, 16-14 with 6:48 until halftime. Montana proceeded to push the lead to 30-21 by the break by chasing SUU’s proliferation of shooters off the 3-point line or denying them the ball.

The Griz allowed Jadon Cohee and James McGee, Southern Utah’s two top shooters, one point each on a combined four field goal attempts, including just two 3-pointers. Brandon Better, SUU’s most prolific guard, finished with nine points and shot 3-of-16 from the floor, including 1-of-8 from deep. UNLV transfer Dwayne Morgan, who scored 22 on Montana in Cedar City, finished with five points on 2-of-7 shooting.

Overall, the Thunderbirds were 1-of-11 from beyond the arc and 15-of-49 overall.

“That’s what defense does is most teams want to beat you with offense,” DeCuire said. “…If teams can’t make shots, can’t get the shots they want, most of the time, they stop fighting, especially if they are not built to defend.”

Oguine carried the load offensively in the first half and the first 30 minutes. He scored 14 before halftime and his 3-pointer with 10:55 left, his last bucket, pushed UM’s lead to 43-30.

Montana’s student section for the first Big Sky game since classes started up again

Meanwhile, junior point guard Ahmaad Rorie could not buy a bucket the first 30 minutes of game time. With undersized Thunderbird guard Dre Marin guarding him, Rorie went to the rack with ease but could not convert. When his layup in the lane spun off the rim, he had a frustrated look on his face, two points on the stat sheet and a 1-of-9 shooting line.

“I knew that No. 4 (Marin), kept trying to cut me off so I was just trying to spin and it went in and out,” Rorie said. “The next time I did it, I made it and I was like, ‘Oh, it’s on now.”

It was certainly on for Rorie for the final 10 minutes. The slashing, jump shooting guard scored Montana’s next 15 points and 17 of its next 19. Back-to-back 3-pointers pushed the lead to 57-34 and his second-to-last jumper with four minutes left gave UM its largest lead, 63-37. Rorie finished with 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting.

“I just wanted to show I could score and show I could take over the game and shots started falling,” Rorie said.

The UM school record for consecutive wins and wins to start conference play is 14 set by the 2012-2013 Grizzlies. Montana will look for its ninth consecutive league win and it’s sixth straight home win against NAU on Saturday about 48 hours after the Lumberjacks posted their first Big Sky win of the season.

“We constantly talk about respecting our opponent,” DeCuire said. “Just like these guys, won by 30 last time but we can’t approach it like a 30-point win. You won by 30 because you scrapped and executed, did everything right. There’s no one in this league we will beat unless we do everything right. We need to continue to do everything right Saturday.”

Photos courtesy of Todd Goodrich, UM sports information. All Rights Reserved. 

About Colter Nuanez

Colter 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 partnered with Kevin Miller to launch Bobcat Beat, an online newsgathering website focusing on daily coverage of Montana State athletics. In August of 2014, the Nuanez brothers merged their passions for sports journalism and founded Skyline Sports.

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