Tyler Hall (3) advances the ball. (TOM WYLIE/MTN Sports)

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

BOZEMAN – College basketball teams spend November and December trying to prepare for the conference season, but one certainty always prevails. There’s really no way to replicate life during the league season.

“It’s conference play,” Montana State coach Brian Fish said the day after his team opened the 2017-18 Big Sky season with a 104-99 win at Southern Utah. “It’s the second game of a road trip, this might be the hardest trip travel-wise in the conference, and we just have to get mentally right. We have to be ready to play.”

The Bobcats’ next opportunity to play arrives Saturday at 5 pm, when Montana State faces Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. Sophomore guard JoJo Anderson leads a youthful Lumberjacks squad, averaging a team-high 14.4 points a game after logging 31 points on Thursday against Montana. His 37 assists is second on the squad, and he converted 17 of his 19 free throws against the Grizzlies.

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“JoJo Anderson is playing as well as anyone in the league right now,” Fish said, “and I’m very impressed with how hard (NAU) plays. They’re growing as a team. They’re going to keep getting better because of how hard they play.”

Big men Brooks DeBisschop (team-high 6.4 rebounds a game) and Isaiah Thomas (57.1% shooting, 5.6 rebounds a game), both 6-9, anchor NAU’s inside game. Chris Bowling serves as Anderson’s complement on the perimeter. The Lumberjacks enter Saturday’s contest 3-11 overall, 0-1 in Big Sky play.

The Cats look to build momentum going forward in the league season, but the task is tall. The Cats have lost three of their last four at NAU, and are 15-33 all-time in Flagstaff. Junior sharp-shooter Tyler Hall snapped a minor shooting slump Thursday by ringing up 36 points, his 11th career 30-point game for the Cats. Harald Frey scored a career-high 30 points, while Devonte Klines added 13.

“To get 79 points from the guards is obviously good,” Fish said. “Those three came ready to play (Thursday). But as crazy as it sounds, I was most impressed with their defense. Everyone (on the perimeter) defended well. We’ve needed to change the narrative, change games, with our defense, and I thought we worked really hard (Thursday) to do that.”

While his team’s defensive effort stood out to Fish, the ink is just now drying in MSU’s offensive record book. The 104 points stands as the third-most ever for the Bobcats in a Big Sky road game, and the most in a BSC opener. The win was Montana State’s first conference-opening victory since 2013-14, and the first road win to begin conference action since 2006-07.

The Bobcats take the floor Saturday with an 8-6 record, 1-0 in the Big Sky.