Montana basketball started and ended its season opener Friday with statements. Senior guard Michael Oguine skied to flush an alley-oop on the first play of the game and then punctuated the Grizzlies’ 81-74 win over Georgia State by spiking Kane Williams’ consolation layup.
In between was a wild festival of highlights, with Oguine, Ahmaad Rorie, Timmy Falls and Georgia State’s D’Marcus Simonds took turns giving the loud crowd at Dahlberg Arena their money’s worth.
Here are some takeaways from Montana’s exuberant season-opening win.
Georgia State isn’t typically thought of as a national basketball power, even in the mid-major realm. But the Panthers are one of the top mid-major teams in the South, winning at least 20 games in four of the past five seasons, and at least 24 in three of those.In 2015, the Panthers posted an upset for the ages when R.J. Hunter, head coach Ron Hunter’s son, hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 2.8 seconds left to lift the No. 14 seed to a 57-56 win over third-seeded Baylor.
Last year, they went 24-11, blew out Eastern Washington and beat the Griz by three, advancing to the NCAA Tournament before losing by 15 to No. 2 seed Cincinnati.
Returning Sun Belt Conference MVP D’Marcus Simonds scored the first 16 Panthers points in that loss. The Panthers lost lost one contributor from that team. Regardless of their profile, the Panthers are a very good team, and a perfect test for Montana to start out with.
“That’s a well-coached team, a very talented team with a potential NBA player we had in the building tonight,” Montana coach Travis DeCuire said following his team’s season-opening victory. “We couldn’t have gotten a better test at home. … They very easily could be the best team we play in non-conference, and nothing against the other teams on our schedule, I just think that team is very talented.”
Simonds scored 20 in the first half and finished with 30, but the Griz did a good defensive job on him regardless.
“He’s 6-5 and he plays the point, and he’s real explosive going to the rim,” Rorie said. “It definitely looks like his shot is much-improved, and that just makes him harder to guard when he’s shooting 3s and going to the rim.”
Oguine, Rorie, Bobby Moorehead and Timmy Falls were the main defenders on the potential first-round NBA draft pick.
“Most of those shots were the shots we wanted him to take. Contested jumpers, step back 3s,” DeCuire said. “We switched up and went with Bobby’s length at 6-foot-7, he had a time shooting over him, then when he adjusted and started attacking the rim, we came back with Timmy’s speed. … That’s where depth comes in. A lot of people think depth is offensive. I think, defensively, to make adjustments and have versatility in what you do, how you guard the ball screen, who’s guarding the best player and where, those adjustments are part of the game.”
The depth, which is even more scary with Oregon State transfer Kendal Manuel cleared to play, gives the Griz any number of potential solutions to a problematic scoring guard or wing. Overall, Montana’s pressure defense looked to be in midseason form for most of the game, trapping the Panthers’ high pick-and-rolls with ease, especially early in the game. The Griz did give up 74 points, but it was a high-paced game. Georgia State shot just 38.9 percent from the field. Take out Simonds, and it was just 35.4 percent.
With senior Jamar Akoh starting alone in the post, the offensive setup for Montana looks a little different from last year, when Akoh played with power forward Fabijan Krslovic, UM’s lone center last season. Going four-out, one-in allowed Montana to space the floor better, leading to better ball movement and more open 3s. They didn’t shoot well from distance, going just 5-for-25 on the night, but on several occasions, simply swinging the ball around the perimeter or driving and kicking produced a really good look because of spacing.
When any four of Oguine, Rorie, Moorehead, Falls or Manuel play with Akoh, there are four players spread around the arc who are threats to at least shoot the 3, which forces defenders to stay close.
“We only played one post, so it’s a lot easier to get that,” DeCuire said. “The spacing was better, and I think really the biggest key to the spacing was that we did hit some 3s early. They knew that Bobby would make some, they knew that Ahmaad could make some, so they kept guarding them, and that allowed for the penetration.”
RORIE TAKES FLIGHT
The senior point guard had the definitive highlight in the second half of a game filled with them, taking a kick-out from Oguine on an extended fast break, driving to the middle from the left wing, and slamming the ball on Simonds’ head.
The play tied the game at 51 with 9:28 and brought a Dahlberg Arena crowd, already fired up by Montana’s comeback early in the second half, to ecstasy. The point guard has always been athletic, but DeCuire said he got even more so over the offseason, when he toyed with the idea of going to the NBA. The dunk, and another almost identical, less-contested one he had late in the game, were the most obvious indication of that.
“I had one last year that was nice like that, and I had one in high school that was probably nicer,” Rorie said. “But that was my best one in college for sure. I had kind of had a rough game, so I just wanted to get some momentum. I know that they block a lot of shots, if you go up soft, they’re going to block it, so I decided to just go up strong.”
Sophomore guard Falls steadily played himself further and further into the rotation last year as a freshman. Friday, he showed that he’ll likely be continuing that trend this season, making his case to be a part of the Grizzlies’ crunch-time rotation.
With Montana struggling against Georgia State’s zone defense early in the second half, Falls hit two 3-pointers and threw several slicing passes through the zone to Akoh for easy baskets inside. He’s particularly valuable when the Montana offense is stagnant, simply because he’s not afraid to shoot or sling dangerous passes.
“That’s what Timmy Falls does. He’s a gamer,” DeCuire said. “I kept trying to get him to the top of the zone, because I knew that he would find seams, and he did that for us tonight.”
Photos by Jason Bacaj. All Rights Reserved.