Montana head coach Travis DeCuire’s message to his team before Thursday’s game was “Hunger never ends for winners.”
The Griz needed that hunger to complete a second-half comeback against Sacramento State. They entered the game 0-5 on the season when trailing at the half and had lost all three games under DeCuire at Sacramento State.
Montana’s defense and all-conference guards came through in a big way as the Griz turned a three-point halftime deficit into a 78-66 blowout victory. They became the fourth team in school history to start 5-0 in Big Sky play.
“It was fun watching us out-scrap a scrappy team,” DeCuire told KGVO radio after the game. “In the second half, I thought we had to get dirty. Sometimes you got to win an ugly game by playing ugly basketball. It got a little ugly because it was so physical, the whistle was blowing, a lot of stoppage. We had to find some ways to get advantages within that, and I thought we did that.”
Guards Ahmaad Rorie and Mike Oguine combined for 30 points in the second half as Montana outscored the Hornets 46-31.
Rorie scored 19 of his 23 points that frame after shooting 2 of 7 in the first half. He dished out six assists to go with three steals.
Oguine had 11 of his 16 points in the second half and stuffed the stat sheet with four rebounds, four steals and three assists.
“We needed to be more aggressive,” DeCuire said. “They needed to know that if they did it on the defensive end, it would carry over. We got into transition, we got the floor open a little bit, had a little more room to operate.”
As the Griz put their heads down and drove to the rim, they got to the free-throw line, where they went 19 of 22 after not attempting any in the first half.
“The emphasis was we’re not going to settle for quick shots,” DeCuire said.
Montana held the Hornets to 1-of-4 shooting on 3-pointers in the second half after Sacramento State made 6 of 10 in the opening 20 minutes.
Sacramento State’s Justin Strings scored a team-high 20 points, including 13 in the second half, and grabbed nine rebounds.
Montana led by as many as five points in the first half, 18-13, but gave up an 8-0 run late that put them down 35-29. Bobby Moorehead beat the halftime buzzer with a corner 3-pointer to stop the bleeding.
“We weren’t playing Griz basketball,” DeCuire said. “I thought the first half we were trying to win on the offensive end. I think we wanted it to be easy.”
The Griz forced a turnover on the opening possession of the second half for their first of 10 that half. They scored with the first six points, five of which came from Oguine; he became the first player for either team in double figures scoring when he converted an and-1 that put Montana up 38-35.
Rorie scored seven straight Montana points for a 50-42 lead; he and Oguine scored 17 of the Grizzlies’ first 18 points of the half. They took their first double-digit lead at 53-43 on a Moorehead 3-pointer.
Montana’s next 11 points came at the free-throw line as it built a 64-48 lead.
The Griz took their first 20-point lead, 71-51, when Rorie drained five consecutive free throws. He made two from a technical called on Sacramento State head coach Brian Katz and three that came from a foul call on his 3-point attempt.
Sacramento State didn’t get any closer than 77-66.
The Griz continue their road trip against Portland State 2 p.m. Saturday.