MISSOULA – Well, the Griz sure know how to give fans a thriller for the final home game.
Despite trailing for the majority of the game, the Montana men's basketball team defeated Northern Arizona 66-64 on Monday night at Dahlberg Arena in front of 3,706 fans.
Senior Michael Oguine went out with a bang, finishing with 22 points and 11 rebounds for his second double-double of the season. Junior Sayeed Pridgett added 14 points and seven rebounds while senior Bobby Moorehead added nine points.
For Moorehead, Oguine and redshirt senior Ahmaad Rorie, Monday was the final night that crew will play a game on Dahlberg’s court. Jamar Akoh, Montana’s fourth senior, missed his seventh straight game with a knee injury.
“It’s kind of hard to put into words. It’s been so great playing here for four years,” Oguine said. “I’ve become accustomed to it and sometimes you take it for granted because at this level, you’re not going to find many places like Dahlberg where there’s so much energy and passion for college basketball.
“There’s really no place like this. I just wanted to give my best effort knowing it’s my last one. Leave everything out there, man.”
NAU led 33-25 at halftime and led the entire second half until redshirt junior Kendal Manuel drilled a 3-pointer with 3:26 left to give Montana a 61-58 lead and the advantage for good.
Immediately following that, sophomore Timmy Falls attempted a three of his own which clanked off, but Oguine skied in for a two-handed put-back dunk. Letting out a big yell, the senior ignited Dahlberg as the Lumberjacks were forced to take a timeout with 2:44 to go. That five-point lead was UM’s largest since it led 16-11 in the first half.
“They were playing zone, but it’s always hard to rebound in the zone so whenever I see zone I get more aggressive on the boards,” Oguine said. “I’m able to weave my way in and that’s exactly what happened. Timmy had a great look and it bounced perfectly and sometimes it just goes that way.”
NAU redshirt freshman Luke Avdolovic followed that with a three which was answered by a layup from Pridgett. Avdolovic hit another from deep to make it a one-point game with 1:06 to go.
On the next possession, Rorie missed a three but Pridgett grabbed the offensive board. He was eventually fouled but missed the first free throw of a one-and-one attempt, but Oguine came up with another offensive rebound and after the Grizzlies killed some time, he was fouled with 14.4 seconds to go. He made one free throw to make it 66-64.
NAU sophomore Carlos Hines, who finished with 18 points to lead his team, went the other way, isolated himself against Falls, but clanked his 3-point attempt off the front iron and UM escaped with the win.
“You want (the wins) to be easy but you can’t let your team want them to be easy,” Montana coach Travis DeCuire said. “I tell these guys every time that we’re going to get everybody’s best punch. When you’re a team with expectations, people are going to show up.
“These guys have been playing good basketball lately and they were going to try and come here and send a message going into the conference tournament and we had to respond.”
Hines scored 11 of his points in the second half as he came alive to pace NAU’s offense. After Oguine seemingly duplicated his one-handed dunk he did against Michigan last March to bring the Grizzlies within one at 50-49, Hines hit a pair of threes to push the Lumberjacks farther ahead again.
NAU (9-20, 7-12) led by as much as nine in the contest.
Rorie finished the game scoreless, the first time in his Grizzly career that he did not score a point. His previous low with UM was two points, which he scored against Southern Utah on Feb. 9, 2017, his first season in Missoula.
Coming off of a good performance against Southern Utah on Saturday, Falls put in another good showing against the Lumberjacks. He scored eight points, including six in the first half to be the second on the team. A defensive specialist, Falls did that again against NAU’s guards to give some life to the Grizzlies.
“I think just trying to earn my minutes any way I can,” Falls said. “We have a really stacked team this year so it’s kind of hard to come by. So just doing whatever it takes to help my team with what I can bring to the table.
“It was just a weird night. Our defense was kind of sluggish so I just tried to motivate the guys.”
Montana (22-7, 15-3) wraps up its season later this week at Portland State on Thursday and Sacramento State on Saturday. The Grizzlies own a one-game lead on Northern Colorado in the Big Sky Conference standings.