Jack Lopez opened the door and the rest of the Griz came crashing through.
Lopez drained four early 3-pointers that set the tone in Montana’s 89-68 Big Sky Conference win over Northern Colorado on Thursday night at Dahlberg Arena.
Lopez finished with six of the long-range bombs for 18 points and his teammates followed suit. In all, the Griz made a season-high 15 from downtown -- four by Michael Oguine (18 points), three by Ahmaad Rorie (19 points) and another by Walter Wright (16 points). Throw in Trever Spoja’s trey in the closing minutes and the Griz made 15 on 31 attempts.
“How we got those shots is the big thing for me,” said Griz coach Travis DeCuire, whose team improved to 4-1 in the Big Sky and 9-9 overall. “We staged some things in the ball screens and some of the off-the-ball screens and they were passes we weren’t making a month ago. The guards were getting too deep and making the pass too late. Tonight we got the pass to the right guys on time. When guys like Jack and Brandon (Gfeller) and Mike are getting open shots and making them there’s way more room for Walter and Ahmaad to do what they do.”
The Griz never gave the Bears (3-2, 7-9) a chance to gain traction, bolting out to a 21-5 lead. Lopez had four of his 3-pointers in that opening salvo.
“I’m used to shooting on these rims, so I think that helps a lot,” said Lopez, who was coming off an 0-for-4 performance in Montana’s previous game at Eastern Washington. “I went into a little bit of a slump last week and didn’t shoot too well. I got more shots up this week and felt good tonight.”
Northern Colorado guard Jordan Davis, the fourth leading scorer in the league, got going midway through the half to cut the gap to 24-16. But Rorie hit a pair of threes and Oguine had two more as Montana’s lead grew to 50-30 at halftime.
But it was Lopez that provided the initial spark.
“Then everyone is worried about Jack so the defense gets extended and that means everyone’s open,” Oguine said. “(Fabijan Krslovic) did a great job in the post with the inside-out game, drawing some defense and making some great plays out of those double teams.”
And with the Bears focused on the arc, it opened up avenues for Rorie and Wright.
“It opened up the lane for me, it opened up my 3-point shot and was able to find him a couple of times,” Rorie said. “It opens it up for everybody and that’s real big.”
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Gerad Davis led the Bears with 23 points and Jordan Davis added 19, but no one else had more than seven points. That’s something DeCuire could live with.
“We knew they needed (Jordan) Davis to get into the paint and make plays and ball screens are a big part of how they do that,” DeCuire said. “We figured if we doubled him and got him away from the basket, it would force somebody else to make a play for him and it would be something they haven’t done all year. We didn’t know if they would struggle with that, but we wanted to find out. And they did.”
Montana’s lead grew as large at 31 points in the second half, the last time at 77-46 on Wright’s floater in the lane with 8:52 to play. A 14-0 run by the Bears cut the gap to 77-60, but Lopez put an end to that with another three-ball.
The only heart-stopping moment for Griz fans came when Oguine hurdled a courtside table going after a loose ball and landed hard on the other side. He took a moment to regain his bearings, but was fine the rest of the game.
“That was pretty scary,” Oguine said. “I’m just glad I’m fine. I was expecting to hit my head, but I didn’t, thank God.”
Oguine matched his season high of 18 points for the second straight game.
“I think his touch is there,” DeCuire said. “He’s been getting up a lot of reps. His legs are under him. He’s defending at a very high level. We just have to keep him fresh as much as possible. I think right now he’s in pretty good shape.”
The win was DeCuire’s 50th in his two-plus seasons at the helm.
“It feels OK,” he said. “I’d prefer to be at 51 right now if we don’t give one up two weeks ago. … I’m happy with the way my team is playing right now.”
NOTES: Senior guard Mario Dunn missed his third straight game with a wrist injury. … The Griz finished with 19 assists on 32 field goals. UNC had just six helpers. … Montana won the rebounding battle 40-33, led by Krslovic’s eight. … The Griz were whistled for 25 fouls to just 12 for the Bears. “We have to slide our feet better and keep our hands off, especially if we go up on a team the refs are going to start calling it tighter,” Rorie said.