Men’s BBall begins season facing high expectations

First seen in Montana Kaimin / Photo by Eli Imadali

Men’s Griz basketball unofficially opened with an explosive, and at some points disjointed, game against Whitworth on Nov. 2. The Griz faced high expectations after a breakthrough season last year, winning the Big Sky Championship and appearing in the NCAA tournament.

Montana proved its versatility as 6’8” starting forward Jamar Akoh sat the game out due to a minor wrist injury. Fifth-year head coach Travis Decuire said Akoh took another few days for recovery so he can be in prime condition for the season’s official start Nov. 9.

Griz defense shut down Whitworth’s outside shooting, causing 20 turnovers. With shorter athletes on the court, the Griz struggled to grab offensive rebounds.

“A lot of the Whitworth guys are very strong so we just had to be very physical,” Michael Oguine, starting senior guard, said. “Jamar brings that presence. When he’s not here it’s tough, but I think we did a good job of it.”

Guards Timmy Falls, a sophomore, and Sayeed Pridgett, a junior, filled in for Akoh’s absence by playing with intensity. Pridgett followed through with Decuire’s demands with a team high of seven defensive rebounds. His ardent defense led to multiple fights for jump balls. Pridgett led the team in scoring with 17 points.

Falls racked up a team high of six assists. Decuire said Falls was the best passer on the team last year. Falls showed in his confidence by threading passes through the Pirates’ feet.

The first half opened up slowly with multiple turnovers and poor shooting by the Griz. The Pirates’ defense rattled the Griz multiple times, which forced the team into a few frantic minutes of missed shots and passes. But Montana still led by 11 at half time.

“It’s the first game of the season, so we are going to be a little sloppy, but all the passes were with the right intention,” Falls said.

The Griz jolted themselves back to playing shape in the second half. Montana shot ahead of Whitworth with multiple runaway assist dunks. The team fell into a rhythm.

Montana struggled to shoot three-pointers, but the guards began taking shots. Donaven Dorsey, a redshirt senior guard, started making his shots for the first time this season after spending the last two seasons on the bench due to transfer rules and hip surgery.

“It was just a matter of time for one to go in and once it did, his swagger came back,” Decuire said.

Seniors Bobby Moorehead and Ahmaad Rorie demonstrated their reliability. Moorehead sunk a team high of four threes, and Rorie controlled offensive attacks on the Pirates at point guard.

Small injuries hampered the Grizzlies’ preseason, resulting in only a few practices with all players available to be on the court. Decuire said that the team struggled with communication in a closed door scrimmage against a Division I opponent last weekend.

“We improved since last Saturday. We struggled especially on the offensive end, the way they were changing defenses. But there were times when we had to change our ball screen coverage on the fly, and most of the time we knew what we were doing,” Decuire said.

The team’s ability and willingness to find one another for passes when driving down the court led to 17 total team assists. Falls led, followed closely by Rorie’s six assists and Oguine’s four.

Despite returning four starters, Decuire said the team has struggled to fill former starter Fabijan Krslovic’s consistency. Krslovic finished his collegiate career last season and won multiple awards for his leadership among the Grizzlies during the ‘17-18 season. He started all games last season and contributed heavily to the team’s points and rebounds as a forward.

Montana pulled freshman forward Mack Anderson and freshman guard Eddy Egun off the bench. Egun stunned with his hustle in his first big court game; his energy electrified the court. Egun got one defensive steal, which he drove down the court and tipped into the basket.

Decuire said the team is further along at the start of the season than last year in knowledge of plays, but the team lacks conditioning due to injuries that have cut into practice time.

“Once we get everyone on the floor, and we can get up and down in practice, we will be a more conditioned team, which means we will be better at transitioning than we are right now,” Decuire said.

The versatility to play focused on scoring will be important as Montana faces a tougher though less shiny schedule this season. Decuire said, “The game was a great benchmark for us to figure out where we are.”

Expectations are set high for Montana on the tail of its championship season.

“We have a target on our backs. We are going to have to be ready to bring our best effort every night,” Oguine said. “It is not going to be easy to repeat what we did.”

As an exhibition game, the win does not count toward Montana’s season record. The Griz will prepare to face Georgia State’s zone defense on Nov. 9. Georgia, a non-conference team, has appeared in the NCAA tournament twice in the last four years.