BOZEMAN — Danny Sprinkle played in this rivalry series. He's now coached in it for four seasons. But Saturday's 72-68 victory over Montana in front of 6,696 raucous fans at Worthington Arena may rank among his best Montana State moments.
Sprinkle's Bobcats asserted themselves physically, drew 27 fouls, shot 41 free throws and had just enough to edge the comeback-minded Griz, who rallied from 15 points down in the second half to make it a one-possession game in the final minute.
With the win, the Cats secured their first regular-season sweep of Montana since 2010, and it meant that the men's and women's programs at MSU won all four games against UM this season. That hadn't happened since 1999. The Griz saw their five-game winning streak come to an end.
"It was great," Sprinkle said during a postgame press conference. "I know how much this means to Bobcat Nation. It's an emotional game, and it's been a long time since we've swept them. They're a tremendous team. They make you earn it."
In a game marred by 46 fouls and countless whistles, the Bobcats made 32 of 41 from the foul line to help offset a 5-for-17 shooting performance in the first half. By game's end, MSU had shot more free throws than field goals (39).
RaeQuan Battle overcame first-half foul trouble to score 19 points to lead the Bobcats, who improved to 19-9 overall and 12-3 in the Big Sky Conference. Montana, which shot 15 of 17 from the foul line, dipped to 14-13 overall and 8-7 in the league.
Josh Bannan had 25 points to lead the Grizzlies. Teammate Aanen Moody scored 21.
The many stops and starts, which disrupted the flow of the game throughout, were a hot topic of conversation with the teams after the game. Despite the free throw discrepancy, Griz players didn't put the blame anywhere but on themselves.
Bannan picked up two quick fouls, and said "the reality was they were silly fouls by me. I stuck my hands in there and I shouldn't have done that. I own that. It's something I need to be more disciplined about."
After a 3-pointer by Darius Brown II, the Bobcats held a 56-41 lead with 10:18 remaining. But Montana didn't go away, and by the time Moody buried a corner 3 off a turnover MSU's lead was only 68-66 with 42 seconds left.
The Griz had the chance to get the ball back but a loose ball went out of bounds in favor of MSU, which was able to seal the game on four free throws by Robert Ford and Battle.
"Been there before," said Battle of his late foul shots. "Ever since I was a young kid I've won games with free throws, since sixth grade. We do this every day. Just go out there with no nerves and trust your process."
Battle had the highlight-reel play of the night when he threw down a huge breakaway dunk early in the game. Brown added 14 points for the Bobcats. As did Great Osobor, who made his only field goal attempt and cashed in on 12 of 16 free throws.
Montana coach Travis DeCuire, who played in this rivalry as well, wasn't thrilled with the free throw disparity in the aftermath of the game.
"I know that our discipline has got to be better around the rim, but something tells me they earned about 25 of those free throws. Forty-one is a lot," DeCuire said. "I'm just used to these games being physical. When I played in the past and coaching these games, they've been physical."
"Every loss is the same to me," he said. "It's our rival, I understand that. We don't want to be swept by anybody, So it's not a great taste."