Slow start sinks Montana State men’s basketball in Denver

Posted at 10:05 AM, Dec 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-19 12:05:50-05

(Editor’s note: Montana State athletics release)

DENVER, Colo. — Denver scored the game’s first 10 points, taking advantage of a frigid Bobcat first half in a 76-64 win over Montana State on Tuesday.

The Pioneers forced nine straight missed field goal attempts and five turnovers before Lassi Nikkarinen’s 3-pointer six minutes into the game. That came after Denver had raced to a 15-2 lead, with MSU’s only points on a pair of free throws.

“I thought they made some shots early, we got off to a bad start, and the game separated right there,” said Montana State coach Brian Fish. “They made some plays early, and we just couldn’t get started.”

After the Bobcats pulled to within 15-7 with 12:58 to play in the first half on a Ladan Ricketts basket, Denver blew the game open. The Pioneers scored the next 13 points, and Montana State would never be within 10 points again.

The Bobcats made just two of their first 20 shots, and while the pace picked up late in the half – MSU had raised its shooting total to 26.6 percent by the intermission – there was no slowing down Denver. The Pioneers shot 61.5% before halftime, capping the period with a three-point heave by Taelyr Gatlin to push th lead to 46-22 at the break.

The second half, though, offered a different script. Montana State scored on seven of its first 10 possessions, holding DU to just 35.8 percent shooting in the second half. The Bobcats received a second-stanza spark from the bench. “I thought the young guys gave us some energy,” Fish said. Nikkarinen, Quentin Guliford and Zeke Quinlan, specifically, boosted the Bobcats. Guliford finished with five points, Quinlan grabbed a pair of rebounds, and Nikkarinen logged five points, a pair of steals, and an assist.

Ronnie Harrell Jr. fired Denver’s hot start, and finished with 24 points. He scored 19 in the torrid first half. Tory Stewart-Miller added 11, all after halftime. For the Cats, Harald Frey scored 18 points, with Tyler Hall adding 14.

Montana State finishes the non-conference portion of its schedule with a 3-7 record, while Denver is 5-8 heading into a Saturday contest at Gonzaga. MSU opens Big Sky play at Southern Utah on December 29.