MISSOULA — The Montana men’s basketball team will be attempting quite the balancing act.
The Griz have practiced with 15-second shot clocks leading up to Sunday’s game as they try to pick up their pace. At the same time, they’ve been emphasizing making the right pass and taking the right shot, which would normally require patience.
It’s a work in what’s expected to lead to more possessions, scoring opportunities and an offensive consistency to avoid dry spells. Montana (3-2) is hoping to display that when it takes on the Carroll Saints, an NAIA school from Helena, at 7 p.m. Sunday at Dahlberg Arena.
“We want to push the tempo and treat it as trying to get a shot fast but still get the best shot for the team,” junior guard Ahmaad Rorie said after Saturday’s practice. “I think it’s going to have guys moving around and be harder to guard.”
The Griz are coming off an 80-73 loss to UC Santa Barbara which saw them fall into holes of 8-0, 17-3 and 25-7 in the first half. They chipped away and took a two-point lead in the second half but the offense went quiet again as they gave up a 13-0 run from which they couldn’t recover.
They took 63 shots, which was 22 more than UC Santa Barbara, but they made just four more, 27 to 23. The Griz were minus-14 in free-throw attempts.
They also had a careless close against Oral Roberts that nearly cost them. And they allowed Penn State to close the game on a 12-2 run in a 70-57 loss.
“We’ve had slippage with execution, especially when we’ve needed good possessions,” Montana coach Travis DeCuire said. “Sometimes guys want to make the play as opposed to letting the play happen. We need to play with better tempo, better pace to create more offensive opportunities for ourselves.”
The Griz are already attempting more field goals than their opponent in each game this season, thanks in part to their 19 turnovers forced per game, which ranks 17th in Division I. However, their average of 72.7 possessions per game ranks 207th in Div. I, according to TeamRankings.com.
Opposing team are shooing 46.6 percent from the field and 43.5 percent at the 3-point line, while the Griz are making 42.2 percent from the field. They shot a low of 39.3 percent against Penn State and a high of 45.5 percent against Pitt, while 154 Division I teams are averaging 45.5 percent or higher this season.
“We’ve been lackluster with our cuts, passes and screens,” senior forward Fabijan Krslovic said. “We need to try to bring that energy on offense, bring the quick movements and that sense of urgency that has been there but hasn’t been there for 40 minutes yet.”
The Griz may need that offense to keep pace with a Carroll team that’s averaging 91.2 points on 59.7 percent shooting. The Saints are holding their opponents to 63.7 points on 38.8 percent shooting.
Carroll senior guard Ryan Imhoff is one of six Saints averaging 10 or more points. He paces Carroll with 18.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 18 total steals and seven total blocks.
Free-throw and 3-point shooting have also been areas of concern for the Griz. Their 63-percent clip on free throws ranks 315th out of 351 Division I teams, and their 27.5-percent shooting from beyond the arc ranks 325th.
The bigger issue of the two to DeCuire is the free throws. The low percentage is a combination of who has and hasn’t been getting to the line consistently.
Mike Oguine leads the Griz with 37 attempts but has made just 24 — 64.9 percent — as he deals with a wrist issue.
Fabijan Krslovic leads the way at 83.3 percent but has just 12 attempts. Rorie is shooting 81.3 percent but has taken only 16 attempts. Bobby Moorehead is shooting 71.4 percent but has attempted just seven free throws.
On the other end are struggling big men. Jamar Akoh is third on the team with 15 attempts but is making just 53.3 percent. Karl Nicholas has made one of nine attempts.
At the 3-point line, the Griz shot 35 percent in the season opener but haven’t been above 29.2 percent since. That included a 4-of-22 performance (18.2 percent) against Oral Roberts.
Rorie leads the team with 3-point attempts (38) and makes (12). He said he feels he’s been too reliant on the 3-pointer and will be looking to score or create plays on drives to the basket.
Moorehead leads the team at 39.1 percent with nine makes on 23 attempts.
Oguine is six of 22 for 27.3 percent, and his key in getting a quick shot that’s also the right shot comes down to confidence.
“When you’re in the game, don’t be afraid to step up and knock down the shots we’ve practiced,” he said. “You can’t get discouraged.”