(Editor’s note: Montana State University press release)
BOZEMAN – Montana State has spent much of the season in a zone on defense. The Bobcats spent much of Thursday night in the zone on offense, and Brian Fish said the reason is easy to pinpoint.
“We moved the ball,” MSU’s fourth-year head coach said after his team’s 92-76 win over Sacramento State in Worthington Arena. “The ball had juice, it was popping, and we got open shots.”
The results was Montana State’s first 50% shooting game and highest point total since the league opener on December 28 at Southern Utah. The Cats shot 54% in that 104-99 win 11 games ago, and shot 50.9% on Thursday. “It’s really fun when everybody’s passing the ball, everybody’s moving,” said senior forward Zach Green, who scored 16 points and grabbed six rebounds. “We get a lot of open shots when we’re doing that.”
Tyler Hall led all players with 28 points, grabbing six rebounds and blocking a shot. He was 8-for-8 from the free throw line. Three other Bobcats joined Hall and Green in double-digits. Devonte Klines scored 12, and Keljin Blevins and Harald Frey each netted 10.
Montana State’s defense keyed a first-half run that gave the Cats control of the game. Leading 10-9 at the 13 minute mark, Harald Frey nailed a three-pointer. Shortly after that Tyler Hall hit a three-pointer and a short runner, and at the 10-minute mark the Bobcats led 20-11. After a Sac State basket Klines and Frey triggered a 9-4 run, and MSU led 31-17 at the 5:35 mark. The Bobcats closed the half by scoring on four straight offensive possessions, and when Klines beat the buzzer with a steal and fast break dunk the Bobcats carried a 45-29 lead into the intermission.
After Sam Neumann nailed a pair of free throws to open the second half, Sac State did what Fish knew they would. “It’s a conference game,” he said, “people are going to make runs at you.” The Hornets scored on 10 of their first 12 second half possessions, and when Justin Strings scored with 9:20 to play MSU’s lead was down to 66-62.
From there, the Bobcat offense took over. MSU scored on a string of 17 possessions out of 20 beginning at the 17:23 mark, and the Cats closed the game on a 26-14 scoring run in the last nine minutes.
While the Bobcat offense broke out of an extended slump, Fish identified a different factor in turning the tide after a Sacramento State win over the Cats in California last month. “I thought a big key for us was that they whipped us by 10 on the boards at their place,” he said, “and we turned that around tonight. We got them by seven,” a 38-31 advantage that was spurred by Blevins’ eight boards.
Montana State raised its record to 13-12 overall, 6-6 in the Big Sky, with the win. Sacramento State is 6-18, 3-8 in the league. The Bobcats host Portland State at 2 pm Saturday in Worthington Arena.