MISSOULA — The Montana Grizzlies re-emphasized their motto before they took the court for the second half.
“We told each other we need three stops in a row,” forward Jamar Akoh said after the game.
They got seven. And they converted those stops into baskets at the other end, going on a 12-0 run to turn their five-point halftime lead over Portland State into a 46-29 advantage in less than four minutes.
The offense continued its second-half resurgence, and the defense held the nation’s No. 3 scoring offense nearly 29 points below its season average in an 80-60 win Thursday at Dahlberg Arena. The Griz improved to 12-0 in Big Sky Conference play.
“That has to be our identity if we’re going to continue to win,” Griz head coach Travis DeCuire said of the defense. “… When we came out the second half and made the adjustments we did offensively, got the ball to the right spots, I knew that at that point we’d make a push. That’s what happened.
“I’m happy with our defense. There’s always something we go back and find and fix. Our effort is there, and we’ve got a group of guys that are committed to playing defense.”
The Griz shot 57.1 percent (20 of 35) in the second half after they were held to eight makes and 30.8 percent in the first half.
They took better care of the ball and turned it over just four times in the final 32 minutes after they had six in the first eight minutes of the game against the full-court press. The Vikings' 10 turnovers forced tied their season low.
DeCuire went with a shorter bench and kept forwards Fabijan Krslovic and Akoh on the floor to help break the press down the court. He also played Ahmaad Rorie with two early fouls and relied on Timmy Falls and Sayeed Pridgett.
Akoh scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season. As a team, the Griz struggled on the offensive glass early; Portland State had 10 offensive rebounds in the opening 11:51 but just five after that.
“We were getting driven too far underneath the basket,” said Griz guard Mike Oguine, who tied Akoh with a game-high 10 rebounds. “We made the point to get low and really drive them out of under the basket so we could have better positioning and rebound. ... Crashing as a team on the defensive glass.”
Oguine added 14 points for his third career double-double. Rorie scored 12 points and had a team-high six assists. Sayeed Pridgett chipped in 14 points off the bench.
Deontae North, the Vikings’ leading scorer, sat out for the fourth consecutive game because of a suspension. Without him, they scored a season-low 60 points.
Derek Brown paced Portland State with 16 points. Bryce Canda and Holland Woods, who came in averaging 14.8 and 11 points, were limited to six and two points. Woods was coming off a 29-point performance, and DeCuire said the key was to minimize his catch-and-shoot opportunities and force him to score one on one.
In a choppy first half marred by fouls, the Griz reached the bonus with 13:35 left and the double bonus with 11:07 remaining. They made 17 of 23 free throws before the intermission.
Rorie picked up two fouls in the opening 3:02 and headed to the bench for two minutes. He returned because DeCuire needed someone to take care of the ball against the press and settle the team down. He played 13:16 after that without picking up a third foul.
Trailing 21-17, Montana closed the half on a 17-8 run. They started with a 7-0 spurt that included an Akoh layup to end a stretch of 6:32 without a field goal for Montana. That basket was the first of five in the final 7:46; the Griz had three field goals in the opening 12:14.
Even without their offense those first dozen minutes, their defense and free throws kept them in the game. They led 34-29 at the break.
After the Griz opened the second half on a 12-0 run, they led by 13 or more the rest of the way. They consistently got to the rim for easy layups.
They took their first 20-point lead on a pair of Pridgett free throws, which put them up 64-43 with 7:30 to play. They built their lead as big as 23 points, 76-53.
Montana native Ryan Edwards finished with eight points and three blocks for Portland State. He fouled out in 16 minutes.