BOZEMAN — Memories don’t fade easily when you drop a rivalry game. Determined to rectify what happened a year ago, Montana held close the frustration from a nine-point loss to Montana State last Feb. 25.
It snapped the Bobcats’ 13-game losing streak to the Grizzlies and was truly one of the signature nights for the MSU athletic department. It was also a signature performance for superstar guard Tyler Hall.
But this time, Montana responded in kind by grinding out a 67-52 victory Saturday night in front of 6,772 Bobcat fans looking for another rousing celebration. The Griz shut down Hall, his backcourt buddy Harald Frey and everyone else on the strength of a lock-down defensive performance.
“This is huge,” said Montana’s Bobby Moorehead, who drew the assignment of guarding the sharpshooting Hall. “I think (that was) the first time losing to them in like 13 games or something. You don’t want to be that team. We wanted to get back — revenge — and we did.”
Moorehead did his duty by limiting Hall to 10 points on just 3-of-9 shooting. Hall only had three points after halftime and didn’t make a field goal in the final 20 minutes.
The same can be attributed to Ahmaad Rorie, who clamped down on Frey, holding him scoreless in the second half after he went for 13 points in the opening stanza. After halftime, the Bobcats shot just 4 for 24 and scored 19 points.
Montana State led by as many as nine with less than seven minutes left in the first half. Griz freshman Timmy Falls hit a 3-pointer before the buzzer to tie it 33-33 at halftime. By the time Moorehead made a 3 at the 9:54 mark of the second, Montana had an 11-point lead.
Still, Moorehead’s defensive effort — and that of Rorie — was the difference.
“I thought last week we had a little slippage (defensively),” Griz coach Travis DeCuire said. “We weren’t playing very hard, we weren’t getting back on defense. We were playing very well offensively and we were beating people with our offense, so I was a little concerned about our defense going in. So we spent two solid days really grinding it out.
“We came out really focused in the second half — Ahmaad Rorie on Frey and Bobby Moorehead with most of the assignment on Hall. For those guys to hold that team as a group to 19 points in the second half, and no made field goals for Frey or Hall that whole half, is an incredible performance.”
Hall, it should be noted, was not 100 percent. Hall missed practice time throughout the week due to an illness that hit multiple MSU players and he was laboring throughout the game, unable to create much space for himself against tight defense.
Hall came in averaging more than 26 points in games against Montana. He had 37 versus the Grizzlies last year at Worthington Arena. But this was clearly not his night.
Neither was it Frey’s. The savvy Norwegian point guard only attempted three shots in the second half, none of which went in the hoop.
“They (did) a really good job on defense,” Bobcats forward Zach Green said. “We’ve just got to figure out how to get back in our groove offensively and not cave in to defenses like that.”
“I thought the guys played hard,” MSU coach Brian Fish said. “I thought guys’ effort was good and everything like that, it’s just some nights the shots don’t go. It was a great game in the first half and we got some good looks in the second half and they didn’t go. Their defense was really, really good, and it separated the game.”
Defensively, the Bobcats tried to limit the opportunities inside for Montana big man Jamar Akoh. They fronted him, were physical and brought help-side pressure when he got the ball in his hands.
Akoh was able to outmuscle the undersized Bobcats at times, and finished with 15 points and nine rebounds. As a team, the Grizzlies scored 40 points in the paint.
"We knew we had to take some things away down there, and they were really good," Fish said. "They dominated the paint."
Moorehead had 10 points but pulled down 12 rebounds to share game-high honors with MSU’s Keljin Blevins.
The Griz improved to 14-5 overall and 7-0 in the Big Sky Conference, which tightens their grip on first-place. The Bobcats slipped to 11-9 and 4-3 in the league, and fell out of second place.
“It feels good. I think it puts a lot of pressure on us,” Akoh said of Montana’s unbeaten streak in Big Sky play. “There’s a target on our back, for sure. But at the same time it’s keeping us hungry. We don’t want to lose.
“We know people are going to come in and give us their best game, so we’ve got to come in prepared and be focused every game. Hopefully that will give us the motivation to (stay) focused and play hard and try to keep this streak going.”