Montana started Big Sky Conference right where it left off at the end of its non-conference schedule.
The Grizzlies’ defense suffocated the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks, their offense posted a season-high point total and they tied their largest margin of victory in an 87-69 victory on Thursday in Flagstaff, Arizona.
“I thought we were tuned in on both sides of the ball,” Griz head coach Travis DeCuire told KGVO Radio after the game. “We got what we wanted to get on the offensive end.
“Defensively, I thought we made them work. … I felt good with the effort.”
The Griz capitalized by scoring 27 points off of 19 forced turnovers. That led to fast break opportunities and a 21-3 edge in that department.
It also led to fewer shot attempts for Northern Arizona (3-11). Montana took 65 shots — making 44.6 percent — compared to 49 for the Lumberjacks, who shot 32.7 percent, a season low for a Montana opponent; UC Riverside shot 38.5 percent.
The Griz (8-5) owned the inside as they posted a 42-33 rebounding advantage, including 16-10 on the offensive glass. That helped them out-score Northern Arizona 13-5 in second-chance points. They finished with 38 points in the paint compared to 12 for the Lumberjacks.
“You got to give Montana a ton of credit for coming in here, being prepared, taking it to us and beating us at our own game with points in the paint,” Northern Arizona coach Jack Murphy said on the WatchBigSky.com video stream.
Montana gave up just 39 points on field-goal attempts and 30 points on 35 free-throw attempts; DeCuire said the foul trouble game from giving up to much penetration. Northern Arizona’s JoJo Anderson scored a career-high 31 points and went 17 of 19 at the charity stripe.
Four Grizzlies scored in double digits, and it was the first time this season they had two players score over 20 points in the same game. Forward Jamar Akoh recorded 23 points and 10 rebounds for his third double-double of the season.
Getting the ball inside led to better 3-point attempts, and the Griz tied their season high of seven on 41.2 percent, their second-best mark. Ahmaad Rorie went 4 of 8 on 3-pointers and finished with 22 points.
Akoh went 13 of 18 at the free-throw line, and the Griz shot 22 of 29 as a team one game after they were limited to 4 of 6 against Washington.
Mike Oguine added 13 points, including the first seven points of the game, after he was held to a season-low five points in his last outing.
“He’s been having some wrist issues,” DeCuire said. “He showed up from the break with no tape on his wrist. I think some of it was mental.”
Up 15-11, Montana ripped off a 10-0 run and took its first double-digit lead at 21-11 on a Karl Nicholas put-back basket. They lead by 10 or more for the final 29:43.
Leading 25-13, they held Northern Arizona without a field goal for 7:03 until Anderson made a 3-pointer in transition with 1:09 left. Before that, the Griz had built their lead up to 19 points, 40-21, on an Akoh dunk in transition off a no-look bounce pass from Timmy Falls, who finished with six points, four assists and two steals as his ball handling helped the Griz break the press.
“There were probably four or five great plays he made that didn’t get finished,” DeCuire said. “I thought it was an eight-assist night for him.”
Montana gave up a 9-2 run to close the halftime and took a 42-30 lead into the break. Sayeed Pridgett scored all 10 of his points in the first half, and the 42 first-half points were a season high.
The Griz opened the second half on a 6-0 run with a transition 3-pointer from Rorie and a fast break dunk from Akoh to build an 18-point lead. Northern Arizona pulled within 53-42, but Montana used a 9-0 run to go up 62-42 for its first 20-point advantage before the teams traded 6-0 runs.
Moorehead hit a 3-pointer, Rorie scored a transition layup off a behind-the-back pass from Falls and Oguine made a jumper to give the Griz their largest lead of the game, 75-51, with 7:05 to play. Their lead never fell below 14 points after that.
“We were focused,” DeCuire said. “I think everybody’s on the (same) page right now. I’m excited about our opportunity Saturday (at Southern Utah).”