(Editor's note: Montana State University news release)
BOZEMAN — Brian Goracke's game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer lifted Montana State to a thrilling 89-88 overtime win over Southern Utah on Tuesday night at Worthington Arena.
In the waning moments of the extra period, Southern Utah (3-8) missed a pair of free throws, allowing Montana State (5-5) to advance the ball into the frontcourt and call a timeout with 2.5 seconds left.
From the sideline, Tyler Patterson lobbed it in to John Olmsted, who delivered a perfect touch pass to Goracke on the wing. The junior from Monroe, Oregon, gathered the ball, used a shot fake to create a window, then drained the buzzer-beater as time expired, sending Brick Breeden Fieldhouse into pandemonium.
"We've had that play prepared for a long time," Goracke said. "Coach drew it up and trusted me to hit the shot. I visualized it and made it happen."
"It's something that we've worked on for end of game situations and our guys executed it terrifically well," head coach Matt Logie said. "Brian made a great read on the closeout. A lot of times, kids panic in that situation, but he had the poise to understand they were going to fly, got himself a good look, and that's what he does, he makes big shots."
The shot capped a wild, physical game that had 46 combined fouls and saw the Thunderbirds attempt 39 free throws. Goracke, who scored 29 in Saturday's win over SAGU AIC, finished with a team-high 23 points and nine rebounds.
Robert Ford III helped will the Cats through the late stages of the second half and overtime, finishing with a double-double on 16 points and ten rebounds, adding three assists and three steals. The redshirt senior scored seven of the Bobcats' 13 points in overtime, providing big play after big play to help keep the home side close and set up Goracke's game-winner.
Chika Nduka delivered his best performance as a Bobcat, contributing a career-high-tying 16 points with six rebounds and four assists off the bench. The Portland transfer helped facilitate the Cat offense with crisp handoffs and pocket passes, setting up multiple teammates for easy buckets.
The back-and-forth game saw nine lead changes and eight ties, with neither team leading by more than four points over the final 14 minutes of game action.
Montana State shot 46.9% from the field, including 42.9% from beyond the arc (9-of-21). The Cats finished 20-of-25 at the free throw line, while the Thunderbirds went 33-of-39.
"We're getting better, man," Logie said. "We held them to 35% from the field. We got to figure out how to get more loose balls and more rebounds—we know that, they know that. But we were trying really hard, and our guys just hung in there. We had a lot of things not go our way, but our theme for tonight was 'it takes what it takes' and whether that takes 40 minutes or 45, you got to come from behind, you have to make a shot late, our guys never quit believing."
Southern Utah got out to a quick start, leading 14-4 before Montana State ripped off a 12-0 run that was capped by a Nduka offensive rebound and stickback at the 11:31 mark in the first half.
Nduka's ten first-half points and five rebounds helped lead the Cats to a 40-37 lead at the break, setting up a classic final 25 minutes after halftime.
In overtime, Southern Utah's Prophet Johnson hit a pair of free throws to give the Thunderbirds an 86-82 lead with 37 seconds left.
A quick inbound to Eddie Turner III led to a transition triple from Ford, cutting the deficit back to 86-85 with 33 seconds left. More free throws by both teams set up an 88-86 lead for the visitors with six seconds left after Walker went one-for-two at the free throw line.
Ford fouled Southern Utah's Braden Housley to send him to the free throw line, where the freshman missed both, allowing the Cats to advance the ball, call timeout, and get the ball to Goracke for the game-winner. Prior to Housley's misses, Southern Utah had been 33-for-37 at the free throw line on the night.
Brandon Walker scored 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting, adding four rebounds and helping the Cats outscore the Thunderbirds in the paint, 36-34.
"I just thought we really came together and fought hard," Goracke said. "That's a good team that we played—they played Utah really tough at Utah—so this was a much-needed win for us. That's two in a row now, building some momentum going into conference play."
Montana State will head on the road for one last game before Christmas, traveling to face Cal State Northridge on Friday in the Golden State. The Matadors upset UCLA at Pauley Pavilion on Tuesday, ending the Bruins' 29-game home winning streak.
Tip is set for 2 p.m. MT/1 p.m. PT. The game will be streamed on ESPN+, with live radio play-by-play airing on the Bobcat Sports Radio Network.