Historic Season Comes to a Close in NCAA Tournament

By NIC HALLISEY

For the second year in a row Montana’s season came to a similar end – in the NCAA tournament to a top-10 Michigan team, one victory shy of tying a school record for wins in a season. The Grizzlies never quit, but Michigan showed why it is was deserving of a No. 2 seed, defeating Montana, 74-55, in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The game was the final one played for seniors Bobby MooreheadMichael Oguine and Ahmaad Rorie, in addition to Jamar Akoh. While the ending wasn’t what the seniors had in mind, the careers will go down in history. Moorehead played in a school record 134 games. Oguine finished in the top seven for career points, steals and games started. Rorie became the fastest in school history to 1,500 career points.

Together, the group won 89 games, the second-most ever in a four-year stretch.

Over the past two seasons, Montana has won 52 games, the best two-year stretch in school history, also advancing to back-to-back NCAA tournaments and winning Big Sky Conference regular-season and tournament titles in both seasons.

Photo Courtesy of Montana SportsInformation

After jumping out to a perfect start against Michigan in 2018 – leading 10-0 just more than 4 minutes into the contest – Montana was ice cold on Thursday. The Grizzlies began the game 3-of-21 from the floor, including 0-for-9 from three-point range. Michigan built a first-half lead of as many as 17 points, showing why the Wolverines rank No. 2 nationally for scoring defense.

The Grizzlies, though, didn’t fold, putting together a run late in the half. They out-scored the Wolverines, 13-9, over the final 6 minutes, making six of their final 12 shots from the field. The stretch carried over to the second half when Sayeed Pridgett scored five points in a row, followed by a Rorie trey, to get Montana to within eight, its first single-digit deficit since the opening minutes.

Michigan responded with authority, however, using a 10-0 run to take command of the game for good.

Pridgett finished with a team-high 17 points, further showing his potential as a Big Sky Player of the Year candidate in 2020. Over the final 14 games of the season, he averaged 19.4 points per game on .668 shooting.

Game Notables

  • Montana used a seven-man rotation until the final 3:24 of the game. DeCuire subbed his three seniors, in addition to Donaven Dorsey, out together with under 2 minutes to play.
  • Ahmaad Rorie (1,654) and Michael Oguine (1,647) finished their Griz careers ranked sixth and seventh, respectively, for career points scored.
  • Rorie finished with 10 points and five assists.
  • Timmy Falls scored 10 points (eight in the second half), in addition to two steals and a blocked shot.
  • Bobby Moorehead collected a team-most six rebounds and four steals, plus a block.
  • For the second year in a row, Montana forced Michigan into more turnovers. The Wolverines lead the nation with just 8.9 turnovers given up per game, but coughed the ball up 12 times. A year ago, the Wolverines ranked second nationally but turned the ball over three more times than the Grizzlies.
  • Montana shot .333 from the floor – second-lowest of the season – and .250 from beyond the arc – the team’s lowest total since Jan. 10. The Wolverines rank in the top 20 nationally for field-goal defense and three-point defense.
  • Michigan used a 19-4 run early in the game to build a 21-6 lead less than 12 minutes into the contest. The Grizzlies began the night 3-for-21 overall, including 0-for-9 from beyond the arc.
  • Montana cut the halftime score to 13 by scoring 13 of the final 22 points in the half. After starting poorly, the Grizzlies shot 6-of-12 over the final 6 minutes.
  • Montana extended the run to 22-9 by scoring the first eight points of the second half – five from Pridgett and a three-pointer by Rorie. That cut the score to 34-26 with 18:33 to play, before Michigan rattled off a 10-0 run.

Quoting the Griz
(DeCuire on building a legacy)
“There have been a lot of good senior classes, so if you compare them basketball-wise, it’s argumentative. But for my group, we were about more than just basketball. We’ve been fortunate to have 100 percent senior graduation rate. None of our guys have gotten in trouble off the court. You don’t read negative things about our team, our guys. So with the consistency that these guys have had for four, five years as seniors in this program, I think their legacy is that they’re the best senior class in the history of Montana basketball because of what they represent and how they represent it. The way the community supports them and embraces them proves it. There have been some kids that have won more games. Maybe there’s one class that might have three rings as opposed to two, but my group is the only group that’s 100 percent graduated and no issues off court.

So I think they represent all those things Ahmaad talked about, which is growth. To me, that’s what’s more important than winning games is the growth of these young men. When I sit across from their parents there is only one thing I promise: to be fair. If I’m fair and I treat them all with the same amount of respect I want in return from 18-22 year olds, they mature and they’re men, because they’re not quite men when we get them. That’s the most important thing with our job, and I think that all of my seniors are walking out of the door as men.”

(DeCuire on his senior class)
“I have coached for a long time before moving on to Division I and then before being a head basketball coach. At the high school level you don’t get to recruit your kids. You just coach who is in the hallways, and kids might transfer in or whatever. But you pretty much have whoever goes to that school. In junior college I had a taste of recruiting kids in my community that could represent me as players. So I had a slight taste of what that is, but I always dreamed of the Division I level having an opportunity to go into different communities and pick the kids that I think would represent me the way I wanted to be represented and play basketball the way I think it should be played. For me, I finally got that. So this class is that. They’re the first group that I actually brought in. This is the first team that’s 100 percent mine. I enjoyed last year a lot more than this year, but I’m more proud of what this group achieved this year than last year because of the adversity they have been through, and because of that I feel like these guys are ready to move on with their lives. It won’t be easy and they will hit speed bumps and they will see more adversity, but I think they’re ready for it.

(Rorie on this year vs. last year in the NCAA tournament)
I feel like last year we came out and kind of just wanted to enjoy the process. We’re here. We made it here, but I don’t think our full focus was on winning. This year we kind of flipped the switch and said we want to win. They’re a beatable team, but we have to do all the right things to beat them. We came up short, but we fought. Last year, I don’t feel like we fought. We weren’t fighting and having a great effort, but everybody fought tonight, and it just didn’t go our way. We actually felt like we could come out and compete. We weren’t just happy that we were here.

(Pridgett on the seniors)
“These guys taught me a lot, honestly. When I got here I only wanted to score, and Ahmaad told me you’re not always going to be the person who is going to lead in scoring. Sometimes you’re going to be the hot guy and sometimes you need to do what the team needs you to do, and Bobby (Moorehead) and Mike (Oguine) had faith in me that I could make shots even when I didn’t have it in myself.”

(Rorie on how he wants to be remembered)
“Just knowing I gave it the best effort every game. When I came here I was complacent. I didn’t have good study habits, basketball habits, and Trav, all I can do is thank him, honestly. I’ve known him for a long time. We’re from the same area, and he pulled me in when I was a sophomore and told me from the jump it’s all about your reputation. I was kind of a guy that didn’t care about reputation. I just wanted to play basketball. I didn’t care about school, but I think I’ve improved in that regard. I graduated, got a degree and I’m working on another one in media arts. I want to be remembered as the kind of guy who improved off the court, and now basketballwise I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a leader.”