Time to Celebrate the Seniors, Saturday vs. Southern Utah

By NIC HALLISEY

Montana vs. Southern Utah / Saturday / 7 p.m. / Missoula, Mont.

Saturday won’t be the end of the road for Montana’s senior class. Following its game vs. Southern Utah (Saturday, 7 p.m.), the Grizzlies have three more scheduled games over a six-day span to close the regular season. Then, if all goes according to planned, they’ll play three consecutive games in Boise before the potential of more in a postseason tournament.

Saturday isn’t the end of the road. In fact, Saturday isn’t even the team’s last home game of the season. But it will be the night Montana will celebrate its tremendous senior class. Prior to the game, the team will recognize the careers of Jamar AkohBobby MooreheadMichael Oguine and Ahmaad Rorie.

The quartet has produced a whole bunch of awards and accolades over the years. It’s a rarity for an entire senior class – of this size, no less – to not only be regular contributors and starters, but also the team’s most valuable players.

There will be time in the upcoming weeks to crunch the numbers and reflect on the careers of each senior, but the raw numbers are pretty astonishing.

Photos courtesy of GrizzlyAthletics

For Akoh, in just a season and a half in Missoula, he became a dominant presence down low, and at the time of his knee injury three weeks ago was ranked in the top five in the Big Sky for scoring, rebounding and field-goal percentage. Playing for a team that prides itself on defense, Moorehead is the leader of the bunch, being named the team’s top defender and often times matching up against opponents’ best scorers. Oguine does it all for the Griz, scoring when he needs to (he’ll finish his career as one of nine players in school history with 1,500 career points), rebounding despite his smaller stature (his 139 boards this year lead the team) and defending (he ranks in the top five in school history for career steals). Rorie, like Akoh, is a transfer. After spending his freshman season at Oregon, Rorie made his way to Missoula and has starred ever since. He’s on his way toward a second consecutive first-team All-Big Sky Conference selection while facilitating the potent Griz offense. He’s the only player in Griz history to reach 1,500 career points in three seasons, not to mention his 106 assists in 2018-19, which rank fifth in the Big Sky.

The numbers are nice, but what’s really special about this class is its commitment to winning. Oguine could be close to a 2,000-point scorer, but has accepted his role as a third or even fourth option on some nights. Same thing for Rorie, as evidenced by his high assists number. Moorehead knows that while scoring is flashy, defense is what keeps him on the court.

Whatever helps the team win. And the Griz have done a lot of that recently.

Over the past four years, a period in which both Moorehead and Oguine have been a major part of, Montana has won 83 games. If the team does what it expects to do over the two weeks, the duo would be part of the second-winningest class in school history.

Montana hasn’t had a sub-.500 season during that span. During Moorehead and Oguine’s freshman season, the team went 21-12, advancing to the championship game of the Big Sky tournament before playing in the College Basketball Invitational. Following a 16-16 sophomore season, all four seniors were part of an historic 2017-18 season in which Montana won Big Sky regular-season and tournament titles and played in the NCAA tournament. This year, they’re once again on the cusp of a conference title, trying to make a repeat trip to the BigDance.

In addition to his phenomenal defense, Moorehead will finish his career with more than 700 career points and nearly 500 rebounds. He’s started 65 consecutive games – and counting. Akoh, despite playing just 49 games so far, has 667 points and 356 career rebounds. If you span his averages out over a four-year career, he would be the only player in school history to rank in the top five for scoring, rebounding and steals. We already raved about Rorie, who will finish his career ranked among the all-time greats for scoring and assists. In addition to 1,500 career points, Oguine will finish his career with the third-most steals ever, not to mention possibly a school record for career starts.

Be sure to be in your seats early on Saturday night as we celebrate one of the greatest senior classes is Montana history.

GRIZ TRACKS

  • Montana has won 10 of its past 11 games and is a half-game ahead of Northern Colorado in the Big Sky standings.
  • Prior to Monday’s two-point loss to Northern Colorado, Montana had won a season-best 10 consecutive games. During the streak, the Grizzlies trailed for less than 29 total minutes (7.3 percent of game action), and never by double figures.
  • Montana has reached 20 wins in a season for the fourth time in the past five seasons (sixth time in school history).
  • Montana has won 25 of its past 27 home games dating back to February 2017.
  • Montana is guaranteed to finish the season at least .500 for the 11th consecutive season.
  • Montana is shooting .492 on the season (10th in NCAA, 1st in Big Sky), and has made at least half of its shots 14 times.
  • Conversely, Montana has held opponents under .400 shooting nine times (9-0).
  • Montana has made at least eight three-pointers 17 times this season. The Grizzlies hit that number just four times in 2017-18.
  • Overall, Montana is shooting .383 from deep (1st in Big Sky/23rd in the NCAA).
  • Montana is the only Big Sky team to have four players rank in the top 25 for scoring. Five different Grizzlies have scored at least 20 points in a game this season.
  • Montana has out-rebounded its opponent in 16 of its past 17 games. During Big Sky play, the Grizzlies lead the Big Sky for rebounding defense (30.1) and rebounding margin (+5.7). Through 10 games, they ranked last with 30.6 rebounds per game and a -2.5 margin.
  • Montana is one of 18 teams nationally to rank in the top 125 for both scoring offense and scoring defense.
  • Montana has held opponents under their season scoring average in 22 of 27 games this season.
  • Montana forced eight turnovers at Idaho State, snapping a streak of 75 consecutive games with at least nine turnovers.
  • Twelve of Montana’s 20 wins have come by double digits, including six by at least 20 points.
  • Montana is 14-0 on the year when scoring at least 80 points.
  • Montana is 19-1 on the season when shooting a better percentage than its opponent.
  • Ahmaad Rorie and Michael Oguine both joined the 1,500-point scoring club last month, two of nine players in Griz history to reach the career milestone. Rorie was the fastest to do so in school history.
  • Sayeed Pridgett led UM in scoring in five consecutive games from Feb. 7-23. Over that stretch, the junior averaged 22.2 points per game on .706 shooting.
  • Pridgett ranks in the top 15 of Big Sky play for scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and field-goal percentage.
  • During a two-game stretch from Feb. 16-23,, Kendal Manuel was 11-of-13 (.846) from deep. He leads the Big Sky with a .909 free-throw percentage and ranks fifth for three-point shooting (.453).
  • Ahmaad Rorie leads the league with a 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio, including eight assists and one turnover vs. Montana State last week. Rorie also ranks in the top 10 for scoring, assists and three-pointers made.
  • Over his past four home games, Donaven Dorsey is averaging 17.3 points per game, including a career-high 20 points on 6-of-7 shooting from deep vs. Northern Colorado on Monday.
  • In addition to more than 1,500 career points, Oguine ranks fourth in school history for career steals (146) and is among the leaders for career starts (115).
  • With a veteran group, four starters have played in 100 or more career games. Montana’s four seniors have started a combined 327 games during their Griz careers, including every game played over the past two seasons.
  • Montana has won five consecutive true road games, tied for the 10th-longest active road winning streak.
  • Montana’s 7-4 non-conference record was its best since 2010-11, and came against the nation’s 43rd-toughest schedule. More impressive, the Grizzlies had their full roster available just twice, most notably being without all-conference forward Jamar Akohfor seven games.
  • Montana’s 4-0 start was its best since 1995-96.
  • Seven players have made their collegiate or Grizzly debuts.
  • Montana’s win over Eastern Washington on Feb. 9 was the 100th career win for Travis DeCuire. In four-plus seasons, he is 103-56, becoming the third-fastest Griz coach to reach that milestone.
  • All-conference forward Jamar Akoh has missed the past five games with a knee injury. He has missed 12 games overall this season.

A LOOK AT THE STANDINGS
With four games remaining in the regular season, Montana is alone in first place at 13-3. The Grizzlies have won 10 of their past 11 games, and it will likely take several more wins over the next week in order to lock up a Big Sky regular-season title and the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament. Northern Colorado (13-4) is just a half-game back of Montana, following Thursday’s 24-point win over third-place Weber State. The Bears’ final three games are against Idaho State (Saturday), at Southern Utah (Thursday) and vs. Northern Arizona (Saturday, March 9). A combination of Montana wins and Northern Colorado losses adding up to four would clinch the title for the Griz.

SCOUTING SOUTHERN UTAH

  • SUU enters Saturday’s game with a 14-12 record overall, including a 9-8 mark in league play. The Thunderbirds are still in the hunt for a top-five finish, which would help them avoid a first-round game in the Big Sky tournament.
  • SUU has won five of its past seven games overall dating back to Feb. 4.
  • The Thunderbirds are just 2-6 on the road during Big Sky play. Their most-recent road win came at last-place Idaho, but the other came against Weber State in overtime (Jan. 5).
  • SUU doesn’t have a single player ranked in the top 18 in Big Sky play for scoring, but has four players in the top 30. Overall, SUU has six rotation players who average at least 8.3 points per game, led by Cameron Oluyitan (12.7).
  • Harrison Butler (7.0) and Andre Adams (6.8) rank in the top 10 during Big Sky play for rebounding. Both also rank in the top 10 for shooting percentage (Adams, .602, third; Butler, .508, eighth).
  • The Thunderbirds have the league’s second-best free-throw percentage (.760), field-goal defense (.435) and rebounding offense (35.9).
  • On the flip side, they rank second-to-last for three-point field-goal percentage (.327), three-point field-goal defense (.384) and turnover margin (-1.7).
  • Brandon Better trails only Kendal Manuel with a .901 free-throw percentage. He’s also the team’s top three-point shooter.
  • Dwayne Morgan, a UNLV transfer who averaged 12.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game a year ago, played just four contests in 2018-19 before suffering a season-ending injury.
  • Todd Simon is in his third season leading the Thunderbirds. A year ago, they went just 5-13 in Big Sky play before upsetting both Idaho State and Idaho in the conference tournament.

SERIES VS. THE THUNDERBIRDS
Montana owns plenty of success against Southern Utah, including a current 13-game winning streak in the series. Montana is 16-5 all-time against the Thunderbirds, going 3-5 from 1982-83 through 2000-01 before rattling off 13 consecutive wins, beginning in 2002-03. The two teams have played at least one time each season since 2012-13, when the Thunderbirds joined the Big Sky Conference.

Travis DeCuire is 7-0 against Southern Utah, including a double-digit road win in late December. In that game, both Ahmaad Rorie and Jamar Akoh scored 23 points as the Grizzlies trailed for just 24 seconds. The last time the two teams met in Missoula, in January 2018, Montana held Southern Utah to just 47 points on 30.6 percent shooting. Most impressive, the Thunderbirds average nearly 24 three-point attempts and nine makes per game, but were limited to 1-of-11 shooting from long range on that night. Both Michael Oguine and Rorie reached 20 points, while Bobby Moorehead nearly recorded a double-double with eight points and nine boards.