Four players scored in double figures as Montana rolled past Southern Utah 89-76 on Monday evening in Cedar City, Utah at the America First Event Center.
Redshirt seniors Jamar Akoh and Ahmaad Rorie each scored 23 points to lead the Grizzlies past the Thunderbirds. Redshirt junior Kendal Manuel poured in 15 points off of the bench and senior Michael Oguine added 12.
Montana improves to 9-4 overall and 2-0 in conference play.
The Grizzlies held the Thunderbirds scoreless in the opening three-and-a-half minutes but Southern Utah ultimately grabbed a quick 9-6 lead thanks to three 3-point conversions. However, Rorie quickly added a three of his own with 14:26 to go in the opening half and the Griz never trailed again.
“It’s all balance,” Montana coach Travis DeCuire told KGVO after the game. “When you don’t have anyone to throw it into (when Akoh was out with injury) and you’re playing outside in, we were generating layups and shooting a good field goal percentage but we weren’t scoring at a high rate because possessions were longer.
He added, “Our defense is better. We were getting out in transition and we’re getting uncontested shots too.”
Rorie was hot right off the bat, scoring 14 of UM’s first 21 points including a pair of threes.
After Oguine put UM up 30-17, SUU answered with an 11-2 run to get within four at 32-28 with 5:16 to play. The teams went back-and-forth from there, but UM ended the half on an 8-2 run to take the first half at 46-36.
Similar to how he did against Northern Arizona on Saturday, Akoh took over in the second half, scoring 15 of his points. He scored four of Montana’s first six, establishing a base early in the post and never looked back.
UM charged out to a 57-40 lead, but the Thunderbirds again responded with a big run, this time an 11-2 advantage that brought them within 59-51 with 11:59 to go.
That was as close as the Thunderbirds got though as Montana used a pair of big runs to put the game away. Leading 64-55, Montana went on a 9-2 run thanks to Akoh, Rorie and junior Sayeed Pridgett to jump to a 73-57 lead. After two SUU baskets, Akoh quickly added a couple of tough, contested layups down low to kickstart an 8-2 run to put the Griz up 81-63 with just under five minutes to go.
Akoh finished the game 10 for 14 and added six rebounds while Rorie was 9 for 17 and 3 for 8 from 3-point range. Rorie led the Griz in assists with seven while Manuel showed some flashes of play-making as he added five assists, finding Akoh a couple of times down low while also drawing defenders in before kicking to an open man. Senior Bobby Moorehead scored three points and led the team in rebounds with seven while Pridgett finished with eight points.
Rorie and Akoh each added three steals.
“To start off 2-0 (in conference play) is huge. You hope some teams beat up on each other in the meantime,” DeCuire said. “We have a tough turnaround right now.”
As a team, Montana finished shooting 53.1 percent (34-64) from the field and 34.8 percent (8-23) from deep. The Grizzlies forced 17 turnovers and won the rebounding battle 32-30. Brandon Better led Southern Utah (5-6, 0-2) with 23 points as four Thunderbirds also scored in double figures. Southern Utah converted 43.8 percent (21-48) of its shots from the field and only 28.6 percent (6-21) of its 3-point attempts.
Also, according to Riley Corcoran, the radio voice of the Grizzlies, SUU standout and leading scorer Dwayne Morgan missed the game and will be out for the season with a shoulder injury. Morgan, a redshirt senior who began his career at UNLV, also did not suit up in SUU’s loss to Montana State on Saturday.
The Grizzlies are back in Missoula for the first time in over two weeks when they host Sacramento State on Thursday at Dahlberg Arena. Montana then welcomes Portland State on Saturday.