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

BOZEMAN – Montana State’s 76-64 win over certainly wasn’t the first time in Brian Fish’s three-and-a-half seasons as the team’s head coach that the Bobcats closed out a Big Sky win, but there was something different.

“It wasn’t so much that we closed it out,” Fish said following the victory that boosted his team to 10-6 overall and 3-0 in league play, “it’s how we did it. In the past we’d close games out by scoring. Tonight we closed a game with defense.”

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The Bobcats played well defensively, holding Northern Colorado to 15 points below its season scoring average, but leading by seven points with just over seven points remaining MSU turned the game on the defensive end. After a pair of Devonte Klines free throws, Montana State registered stops on nine of the 10 ensuing possessions. The Bears scored just two points in the game’s final seven minutes.

“I thought they missed some shots they’ve been making,” Fish said, “but I liked the effort of our guys. I thought we took them out of their rhythm by winning the rebounding war.”

Montana State out-rebounded the Bears 44-to-28 on the game, the Bobcats’ largest rebounding margin against a league opponent since last January 21, when MSU grabbed 53 to Portland State’s 37. The Cats out-scored UNC 10-6 on second-chance points.

The game see-sawed early, with the lead changing hands nine times in the game’s first 10 minutes. But when Benson Osayande hit a put-back at the 9:26 mark to make the score 16-15, MSU had a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. Tyler Hall hit a triple for three of his game-high 28 points to start a 14-5 run, and the Cats carried a 39-31 advantage into the intermission.

Hall said a strong mental mindset helped with the solid start. “Pre-game preparation,” he said, “it’s really important.”

Harald Frey’s jumper on the first possession of the second half pushed MSU’s lead to 41-31, but Northern Colorado whittled it to 47-45 three-and-a-half minutes into the period. A Sam Neumann free throw and back-to-back baskets by Konner Frey extended the lead to seven points, then Hall hit a triple and Konner Frey added another jumper for a 57-45 Bobcat lead.

UNC again trimmed the lead, trailing just 60-56 with 9:42 to play when Hall hit one of the biggest shots of the evening. Coming off a screen, he calmly nailed a three-pointer and was fouled by Anthony Johnson. A free throw completed the four-point play, and MSU’s lead was 64-56. After two stops Harald Frey nailed a three-pointer, setting the stage for MSU’s defense to close out the game.

Sam Neumann’s eight boards shared game honors with Hall and UNC’s Tanner Morgan, and the Bobcat junior said his squad fed off the board work. “Extra (offensive) rebounds bring a lot of energy,” Neumann said. “We saw the bench go crazy after a couple of those, and that really gets us going.”

The win knocked Northern Colorado from the ranks of the Big Sky’s unbeaten, with the Bears carrying an 11-5 overall mark and a 2-1 Big Sky record into a Saturday game at Montana. The Bobcats host reigning Big Sky Conference champion North Dakota Saturday at 2 pm in Worthington Arena.

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