Montana State Bobcats off to best Big Sky start in 12 years

Posted at 10:54 PM, Jan 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-07 00:54:00-05

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

BOZEMAN – Tyler Hall accounted for the splashy three-pointers and Joe Mvuezolo Jr. the highlight-reel dunks, but it was something quite different that caught Brian Fish’s attention in Montana State’s 79-68 win over North Dakota in Worthington Arena on Saturday.

“I thought a really big key was that they got us to take some quick shots,” Fish said, “and we got some offensive rebound tip-outs that resulted in some big threes. That’s what separated that game from a four- or six-point game to 12 or 14. We didn’t quit on the ball.”

That refusal to quit on the ball resulted in MSU’s 42-to-29 rebounding margin on Saturday, and an 86-to-57 margin in the two-game weekend sweep of UND and Northern Colorado. That success on the glass has ultimately helped propel the Bobcats to a 4-0 start in Big Sky Conference play for the first time since 2004-05.

“That’s one of our four big keys, winning the battle of the boards,” said Bobcat forward Zach Green, who helped the cause with four rebounds. Keljin Blevins grabbed a game-high 11, while Konner Frey had seven off the bench and Sam Neumann six for the Cats.

“Rebounding comes down to toughness,” Konner Frey said. “We’re all a little bit undersized and so it’s a team effort, for sure.”

The Bobcats led for the game’s final 32 minutes, and while the lead after halftime never grew larger than 13 the Fighting Hawks never got closer than six. But with 1:49 to play, the Bobcats led 72-65 after a Geno Crandall layup. After Mvuezolo hit one of two free throws, Hall pilfered the ball near half court and threaded the needle to Mvuezolo for a dunk. Moments later he had another dunk in the halfcourt to finish with 14 points on just eight field goal attempts (6-for-8 shooting).

“He was awesome,” said Konner Frey. “He’s so athletic, he runs the floor extremely well, and when he does all that he’s hard to stop.

Hall led all players with 25 points, many of them coming on long three-pointers. “I think, ‘It’s Tyler Time,’” Green said when asked what goes through his mind when his sharp-shooting teammate begins to heat up. Hall finished the day 7-for-15 from the floor, 5-for-12 from the arc, and 6-for-6 from the free throw line. He added three assists and two steals.

Harald Frey matched Mvuezolo’s 14 points for the Bobcats, and matched Hall’s three assists. Konner Frey scored eight points in addition to his seven rebounds.

Montana State’s 4-0 start to conference play is only the sixth of at least that many without a defeat to begin a Big Sky season since the school helped form the league in 1963. The most recent was 2004-05, when MSU began the league season 5-0. The Cats also raised their overall record to 11-6, while North Dakota falls to 4-11 overall, 0-4 in the conference.