It’s getting to the point that Idaho State may want to rethink playing zone against Travis DeCuire’s teams.
For the fourth time in four games against the Bengals’ preferred defense, a DeCuire-coached Montana squad had little trouble finding the scheme’s weaknesses as the Grizzlies picked up their first conference win on the Big Sky’s opening night. Montana knocked down 51 percent of its shots and hit nine threes in Thursday night’s 74-62 wire-to-wire victory.
“We found a way to spread their zone with a two-guard front and get into the paint,” said DeCuire, now 6-8 in his third year with the Grizzlies with a game against preseason favorite Weber State looming at 2 p.m. New Year’s Eve. “Once we got in there the big fella (7-footer Novak Topalovic) doesn’t move very well so he had a hard time contesting jump shots and it helped us get what we wanted.”
Montana pushed the pace at every chance, causing Idaho State’s zone to structure itself on the fly. The result was a highly efficient attack, led by a couple guards who did what they could to put points on the board whether it from their hands or a teammate’s. Sophomore Ahmaad Rorie and senior Walter Wright combined for 45 points on 29 shots and dished out a combined 13 assists.
The two guards either scored or assisted on a string of 27 points scored over an 11-minute period in the second half that saw the Grizzlies fend off Idaho State’s last charge and build a 15-point advantage
“I felt like we were a really good tandem today,” said Rorie, who went over the 20-point mark for the third straight time with a game-high 24 to go with his six helpers. “We were feeding off each other and just trying to lead the team. I felt like he did a good job finding me and I felt like I did a good job finding him. We were both finding our shooters and setting a good pace.”
Added Wright, who contributed 21 and seven assists, “This is what we wanted from the start.”
It’s what Montana got when it needed it most.
Facing a 42-32 deficit, Idaho State (2-11, 0-1) ran off seven unanswered to trim the Griz cushion to one possession. DeCuire immediately called time and brought in Wright and Bobby Moorehead. The play he drew up freed Rorie for his fourth and final 3-pointer.
Moments later, Wright hit a jumper, then Rorie got out in transition for a layup and then took command of a fast break created by junior post Fabijan Krslovic’s steal. Rorie took a couple dribble and spotted Wright on the wing for a three and an 11-point lead with 14:02 to go.
Wright then set up a Michael Oguine transition layup before Rorie made good on three consecutive jumpers that left the Griz in control up 13 with just eight minutes left on the clock.
“It’s what I’ve been demanding all year,” DeCuire said of his two lead guards led the charge. “When you’ve got big guys and athleticism and adjusted roles — Walter’s role is different than last year and we had to find the right thing. It took us some time to get to this point, but I think the last three or four games those two have played very well together.”
While the two guards orchestrated offensively, the Griz threw a wave of defenders at Idaho State guard Ethan Telfair, limiting the preseason All-Big Sky guard’s impact on the game. At times it was Oguine shadowing, others it was Rorie and others it was senior Mario Dunn. It cut the output from the reigning BSC Newcomer of the Year from 30 scored against the Griz last season to just 19 on a difficult 6-0f-14 shooting night.
Unlike last season when Telfair was able to score enough to counterbalance Montana’s barrage of threes until the weight of those shots became too much, he couldn’t lead any sustained charge in front of 3,848 who showed up to Dahlberg Arena to watch Montana move to 1-o in league play.
“They did a phenomenal job on him,” DeCuire said of the team effort on the Big Sky’s leading returning scorer. “He didn’t have the ability to dominate the game off the bounce like he would normally do.
“ … But also, guys like Fab and Jack (Lopez) did a good job of rotating over when he did beat us and contest his shots without fouling and made it more difficult.”
Notes: The four threes Rorie hit marked the fourth consecutive time a Grizzly has hit at least four threes in a game against Idaho State. Moorehead hit eight last season. … Dunn hit a three for the fourth straight game. … Krslovic finished with nine points and 12 rebounds. It was his fifth double-digit rebounding game. … Only 22 free throws were shot. Montana hit five of its eight and the Bengals were good on 12 of 14.