(Editor's Note: Montana State Press Release)
GREELEY, Colo. — Montana State overcame a Northern Colorado rally and put together one of its best stretches of the season as the Bobcats defeated the Bears, 79-67, to open Big Sky Conference play in the Bank of Colorado Arena.
Both teams started out strong offensively and were in the midst of a one-possession game 16 minutes into the contest. MSU created some separation following the final media timeout of the first half, scoring eight of next 10 points to give the Bobcats a 44-37 advantage at the half.
Northern Colorado (5-5, 2-3 BSC) came out firing to open the second half. The Bears used a 17-2 run to jump out into the lead, and after a Matt Johnson 3-pointer, went up 59-50 at the 11:30 mark of the second half.
Montana State (4-3, 1-0) responded.
The Bobcats took control of the game for nearly the next eight minutes. MSU went on a 21-1 scoring run, with eighth of those points coming from senior Xavier Bishop, and held Northern Colorado scoreless for just short of seven minutes. The 'Cats were up 71-60 with 3:38 remaining before a Tre'Shon Smoots 3-pointer snapped MSU's offensive onslaught.
The Bears scored six straight points to cut the deficit to 71-66 with 1:32 to play, but the Bobcats were clutch from the charity stripe late. MSU knocked down eight consecutive free throws to put the game out of reach.
"Talk about a gutsy last 10-and-a-half minutes by these guys," Montana State head coach Danny Sprinkle said. "The leadership they had on the floor, the way they were talking to each other in the timeout and huddle, they stayed together. I told them 'we're playing on their home court, were going to hit adversity. How are going to handle it?' I knew it was going to come down to a 4 minute stretch in the game and they handled it."
MSU's Bishop tied his career-high – and set his high as a Bobcat – by scoring 28 points on 9 of 13 shooting. He also went 3-for-4 from 3-point range and made seven of his eight free throws. His seven rebounds and five assists were both season highs.
Bishop was joined in double digits by Jubrile Belo (16). Belo had a team-high eight rebounds while going 8 of 14 from the field. Amin Adamu also joined them in double digits with 10 points and snagged seven rebounds. Borja Fernandez went 4-for-5 from the field and scored nine points in 19 minutes off the bench. Nick Gazelas totaled eight points which was boosted by a 6 of 6 clip from the free throw line.
Montana State held a 53.6%-40.7% edge from the field and outrebounded Northern Colorado 35-31. The Bobcats also shot 87.5% (14-16) from the free throw line while the Bears went 7 of 16 (43.8%).
Northern Colorado was led by Johnson's 20 points. Bodie Hume had 14 points and 10 rebounds while Dylan Kountz joined them in double digits with 12.
The Bobcats and Bears meet for the second part of their head-to-head series on Saturday in Greeley. Tipoff is scheduled for 12 p.m. at Bank of Colorado Arena.