MISSOULA — Montana’s defense has been dominant on the court through the first 16 games of the season.
The Griz haven’t given up over 80 points in a game and are allowing just 69.2. They rank second among Big Sky teams in blocks and turnover margin and are third in steals. Among 351 Division I teams, they’re 19th in turnovers forced per game.
It was a different type of defense on Saturday that head coach Travis DeCuire was pleased to see in the 89-80 win over Northern Colorado.
Karl Nicholas and Jamar Akoh came to the defense of teammate Timmy Falls with 13:19 to play. Falls and UNC’s Ibrahim Sylla got tangled up under the basket as Falls tried to force a jump ball; it appeared Sylla shoved Falls to the ground.
Falls was called for a common foul. Akoh got a technical foul and Karl Nicholas and Sylla received offsetting technical fouls for what appeared to be shoving within a group of players.
“I expect my team to have each other’s back,” DeCuire said. “If a player of theirs throws Timmy Falls on the ground, somebody on my team better step up. As a team, you can’t watch that happen and then not respond because then you’re not a team, you’re not a family. If someone throws our guys to the floor, his teammates are going to be there to have his back.
“Now, they’re not throwing punches, they’re not doing anything out of character. But it’s in character to go stand your ground and help your teammate out. What we did was what I expected. I don’t think it was worthy of a technical, in my opinion.”
No players were ejected from the game. That included Akoh, who scored a career-high 34 points as Northern Colorado had no answer for the 6-foot-8 forward.
“I saw some shoving, some talking,” Akoh said. “I had to defend my teammate.”
Northern Colorado coach Jeff Linder didn’t have any issue with what happened on the court in that sequence.
“Our guys play hard every possession,” Linder said. “They’re not going to play dirty. Montana’s not going to play dirty. Both teams play the right way.”
UNC converted three of four free throws resulting from the fouls, and it got the ball and made a 3-pointer for a six-point possession. It was part of a 12-0 run that saw Montana's lead trimmed from 59-38 to 59-50. The Griz didn't allow UNC to get any closer than six points as they held on for the win.