MISSOULA — Early in the Montana men’s basketball team’s Maroon-Silver scrimmage, Eddy Egun made a play that showed just why so many around the program have been excited about his future for over a year now.
Playing for the Maroon squad, which fell 28-27 to the Silver side in the 20-minute scrimmage, Egun swiped a pass and corralled the first of his three steals on the evening. He then tossed a pass up to senior guard Sayeed Pridgett, who found sophomore Mack Anderson near the rim.
Anderson hammered it down for a vicious dunk and a timeout was called.
“Defensively I’m just trying to be the best guy that I can be,” Egun said. “Get my hands on balls, get a lot of deflections. It gets our team going and gives us a lot of energy.
“I’m just trying to be the energy guy with my defense.”
Egun’s three steals led to three total points, but all the shots the Maroon squad got off of the deflections were open looks. He also had a hand in several other defensive plays and generally looked like he is going to contribute extensively on the defensive end of the court this year.
Head coach Travis DeCuire mentioned Egun as one the most improved players on the team earlier this fall and he looked the part. Egun mentioned he’s gotten much stronger during his redshirt year and this past offseason and also wanted to improve his 3-point shot.
But his defense just might be what the Grizzlies will need this year more than anything and it was on display Tuesday night.
“I thought Eddy was great. Defensively he was about as active as we’ve seen him,” DeCuire said. “We play by a lot of rules and he was in the right place a lot of times, he had his hands on a lot of balls and shots will start falling for him as he gets his legs under him.”
As for that aforementioned steal to dunk play? Well, that’s something he liked to see to.
“We’re all about sharing the ball, we want to score off the defense as much as possible,” DeCuire said. “We’ve been learning so much, it’s hard to have flow in practice and to get up and down, so we tried to let them play a little bit tonight and that’s what you get when you share the ball.”
In 13 minutes, Anderson tallied four points on 2-of-2 shooting with four rebounds, a steal and a block.
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Anderson looked stronger and more confident than he did a season ago and that might just be due to who he’s been facing in practice — 6-foot-10, 231-pound San Jose State transfer Michael Steadman. While Steadman will likely redshirt this year, he still has provided Anderson with an extremely talented practice partner.
“It’s probably been the biggest thing for me this offseason, just going against him every day,” Anderson said.
His coach hopes it translates to games, though only three players in the Big Sky are listed as 6-10 or taller — Montana State’s Devin Kirby, Southern Utah’s Ivan Madunic and Weber State’s Duma Zdor. So perhaps the sophomore from Bozeman might just find himself at an advantage.
“I don’t know how often he’s going to be playing against someone that talented this year,” DeCuire said. “So hopefully what you see is some growth and confidence and all the sudden with those types of matchups, on those nights he’ll go in with a lot of confidence.”
Freshman Kyle Owens got the start with the Maroon team, along with Egun, Anderson, Kendal Manuel, and Sayeed Pridgett.
Owens played 16 minutes, scoring three points on four shots, while also hauling in a pair of offensive rebounds. Physically he looks to be a player Montana could certainly use this season.
“Not sure yet. Freshmen are going to be freshmen,” DeCuire said when asked what he expects out of Owens this year. “One night they’ll be spectacular in one area and the next they’ll be a completely different player. I just need these guys to be consistent with their effort.”
Manuel finished the night leading all scorers with 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting and tacked on three rebounds in 20 minutes. Jared Samuelson, Peter Jones and Timmy Falls each did not play. Falls had a brace on his right hand. Samuelson’s setback is a minor knee injury.
Naseem Gaskin, a transfer from Utah, was also impressive and sank a pair of 3-point shots en route to a 10-point, four-rebound, two-assist night.
As with Steadman, Gaskin’s availability is questionable for this year as well, again coming back to NCAA transfer rules.
“If we get a nod, it’s a bonus,” DeCuire said. “If not, we’ll move on.”