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Big Sky undefeated Montana State Bobcats square off against North Dakota

Posted at 12:22 PM, Jan 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-06 09:35:34-04

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

BOZEMAN – North Dakota brings offensive balance and a strong pedigree to Bozeman Saturday, when the Fighting Hawks and Montana State square off in Worthington Arena as Big Sky rivals for the final time.

Defending Big Sky champ UND looks to end a streak, while the Cats look to extend one when the teams meet at 2 pm. North Dakota carries a seven-game losing streak and 0-3 start into Worthington Arena, but has won six times in its last seven trips to Bozeman dating back to the 1960s. Montana State, on the other hand, has won its first three league games for the first time in four years.

None of that matters to MSU coach Brian Fish. “They’re defending Big Sky Champs, they’ve got a lot of the same players, they play hard,” Fish said. “Like every team in our league they have some guys that can really play and I expect a full-court game. We’ll get their best shot.”

North Dakota’s cast features several familiar characters. Geno Crandall averaged 15.5 points a game with 136 assists for last year’s league title team, and he has raised that to 16.1 ppg as the 2017-18 season passes the mid-point. Big man Connor Avants (10.1 ppg this season) also started for the Fighting Hawks last year, and Cortez Seales was an important reserve a year ago.

A trio of Fighting Hawks are even more familiar to Bobcat star Tyler Hall than the rest of the squad. “Tyler has three kids from his hometown (on the UND team),” Fish said, “so there’s a little bit of a rivalry there.” Seales and Hall grew up and played AAU ball together, while Creighton transfer Marlon Stewart and freshman Tray Buchanan also hail from the Quad Cities area.

While North Dakota dropped a 109-79 decision in Missoula on Thursday, the Bobcats scratched out a 76-64 win against resurgent Northern Colorado, who along with the Bobcats and Grizzlies entered weekend play as the teams with 2-0 Big Sky records. Fish was happy with the win, but more pleased with the recipe his team followed.

“One thing I was real happy with, we’ve won a lot of (close) games the last few years, but we’ve had to win them by making shots,” he said. “(Thursay) night we won it on defense and rebounding, so that was an encouraging step.”

The strongest data point in Fish’s favor began with seven minutes remaining in the game. From that point on, Northern Colorado scored only two points. MSU stopped the Bears on nine of their 10 possessions before the teams began substituting. The Cats put UNC on the line only 13 times, the second-fewest attempts by a Division I MSU foe this year, and Northern Colorado’s 40.3% shooting game marked MSU’s best defensive effort since mid-November.

Montana State looks to extend its hot start to Big Sky play on Saturday. The Bobcats’ 3-0 start is its best since 2013-14, and in more than a half-century as a Big Sky school MSU has begun only 10 league seasons with three straight wins. Saturday’s matinee is available on the Bobcat Radio Network around Montana, on msubobcats.com, and at WatchBigSky.com and Pluto.tv.