(Editor’s note: Montana State University press release)

OMAHA, Nebraska – Omaha used a quick start and hot shooting to top Montana State 84-71 in Baxter Arena on Thursday.

The Mavericks shot 59.5%, hitting two-thirds of their shots in a first half they closed on a 23-10 run to take control of the game. Bobcat coach Brian Fish said that his team’s offense affected its defense.

“We’ve got to get better offensively,” Fish said, “because we let our shooting affect the rest of the game. We had some shots early that didn’t go and we didn’t fight through that very well.”

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The Cats shot just 37% on the night, the team’s second-worst shooting game in the last nine. MSU failed to score in the team’s first eight possession, finally lighting the scoreboard for the first time on a Konner Frey three-pointer with 15:10 remaining in the first half. Trailing 7-0, the Cats battled back to tie the game at 18-18.

“I felt pretty good at that point,” Fish said, but after tying the score MSU was unable to score on the next six possessions. This dry spell allowed the Mavericks to build a 27-18 lead. UNO used a spurt right before halftime, scoring on the final three possessions of the period to push the lead to 41-28.

“We didn’t move the ball offensively,” said junior guard Devonte Klines, “but I felt the biggest problem was on the defensive end. The coaches prepared us, but we didn’t execute. We didn’t play with energy, the body language was bad, we just didn’t get it done.”

The story of the first half played out in the paint. Omaha made a concerted effort to pound the ball inside to Lamar Wofford-Humphrey to take advantage of its only height mismatch, and the 6-9 senior hit six of his nine shots before halftime for a dozen points. That productivity inside – UNO scored 26 of its 41 first-half points in the paint – created opportunities outside, as Zach Jackson hit all three of his triple tries. He entered the intermission with 15 points after MSU held him to 12 in the first meeting between the teams in November.

The Bobcats held Zach Jackson to a dozen points in the first meeting between the teams this season, but he poured in 25 points on Thursday. JT Gibson chipped in 18, and Lamar Wofford-Humphrey scored 15, including 12 in the first half.

Harald Frey led the Bobcats with 20 points, after scoring 29 against UNO in November. Joe Mvuezolo Jr. scored a season-high 16 points, while Keljin Blevins finished with his first double-double, a 12-point, 10-rebound showing. Konner Frey added 10.

Montana State finishes its most successful non-league slate with a 7-6 mark, while Omaha is 4-11. The Cats open Big Sky play on December 28 at Southern Utah.