(Editor’s note: Montana State Athletics release)
BOZEMAN — Four double-digit scorers and a solid final 10 minutes of action propelled Montana State to an 84-70 victory over Sacramento State on Saturday, Jan. 5, in a Big Sky Conference men’s basketball matchup in Worthington Arena. The Bobcats trailed by four heading into halftime, but outscored the Hornets by 10 over the final 4 minutes of the contest in front of a crowd of 2,723.
Montana State (6-8, 3-1 Big Sky) closed out the game with a 37-27 advantage on the boards, and committed only four turnovers in the second half, while forcing Sacramento State (6-6, 0-3) into 17 turnovers.
“I thought they were tough,” MSU head coach Brian Fish of Sacramento State. “If we didn’t respond to that, they were going to beat us. We’re a team in growth and progress. We had a one-point lead last week and we didn’t finish it out. We lacked toughness. We showed them that on film and you don’t know if it resonates with guys or not. But today at 9:17 we were down by one shooting free throws. We missed some free throws there, but we made some plays.
“We showed some real toughness, and again, we won the battle of the boards which was a huge key.”
The Bobcats outscored the Hornets by 18 points in the second half which included two separate 8-0 runs. Devin Kirby opened the second half for MSU by scoring the team’s first seven points, then Lassi Nikkarinen had a stretch of seven consecutive points mid-way through the second half to keep the Bobcats within striking distance.
MSU began to pull away from Sacramento State with 4:18 remaining. After the Hornets knocked down a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 69-67, it was all Bobcats. Harald Frey and Tyler Hall connected on back-to-back jumpers, then three different Bobcats converted on five free throws to make it a nine-point game with less than 2 minutes to go.
Montana State took advantage of its opportunities at the free throw line. The Bobcats made 33 free throws on 42 attempts for a 78.6 percent mark on the stripe. MSU also shot 47.9 percent (23-48) from the field compared to Sacramento State’s mark of 42.6 percent (26-61).
After a tough first half, MSU bounced back in the second half with several strong individual performances.
After starting 0-for-5 from the field, Keljin Blevins went 3 of 4 in the second half and finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double. Harald Frey scored a team-high 21 points and he was followed by Kirby and Nikkarinen who each registered 14. Sam Neumann trailed Blevins on the boards as he hauled in 6 for MSU on Saturday.
The Bobcats continue Big Sky play by traveling to Moscow, Idaho, to face the Vandals on Thursday, Jan. 10. MSU returns to Worthington Arena on Jan. 14 when it hosts Northern Colorado.