MISSOULA — The Montana men’s basketball team enters December with a winning record for the first time since 2011 despite its offensive woes.
The Griz posted a 4-3 record in November but could've been 6-1 or 2-5 through seven of their 31 games if they would've made or failed to make a handful of plays in four games.
"We're sitting in a good spot going ... into December," head coach Travis DeCuire said after Wednesday's loss to Stanford. "I'm happy with that, but we have to be a better basketball team. There's more potential out there for us. We just have to take advantage of the situation."
The 4-3 start is the best record in November under DeCuire. The Griz went 2-3 in each of his first two seasons and 1-6 last season. It’s also Montana’s best record through seven games since 2012-13 under Wayne Tinkle.
The defense has carried the Griz, who've played three contests against Power Five opponents and five games away from Dahlberg Arena. They've forced 19 turnovers per game, which ranks 15th out of 351 Division I teams. Their 71 points allowed per game is 160th.
The offense continues to be a work in progress. They’re averaging 70.6 points, which ranks 259th, on 42.2 percent shooting, which is 277th. Their 26.5-percent clip on 3-pointers ranks 342nd, and their 62.5 percent at the free-throw line is 331st.
“We’ve underachieved a lot,” said junior guard Mike Oguine, who missed most of last November with a hand injury. “We’ve shot the ball terribly, we haven’t closed out games strong, and we’re 4-3 still, so that’s a positive.
In their three losses, the Griz have been within striking distance late. They trailed Penn State 58-55 in the final four minutes before they allowed a 12-2 run.
They led UC Santa Barbara 48-46 with 12:51 remaining but gave up a 13-0 run. They ran out of gas after they battled back from holes of 8-0, 17-3 and 25-7 to open the game.
Against Stanford, they led 50-44 with under 10 minutes left but surrendered a 26-4 run to close the game. They made just two of their final 19 field goals.
“If we manage stretches of games better, knock down some free throws, don’t turn the ball over at the wrong time, we very easily could be undefeated right now," DeCuire said before Friday's practice. "Two of the three games we walked away from saying we should have won, and one we walked away feeling we could have won.”
They’ve also had shaky moments that nearly cost them. They committed a 10-second violation in the final minute against Pitt, gave up the game-tying basket and needed to rally in overtime.
They led Oral Roberts by 14 with 8:37 to play but needed to make four clutch free throws in the final 29 seconds to win after Oral Roberts used a 21-10 run to pull within 65-62.
“We just need to do better when we have the lead by rallying around each other to sustain the lead and get the win,” junior guard Ahmaad Rorie said.