(Editor's note: Montana State Athletics press release)
BOZEMAN -- In a game marked by several important numbers, Montana State used something quite different to turn a six-point halftime deficit into a 77-63 Big Sky men's basketball win over Weber State in Worthington Arena on Saturday.
Rhythm. Or more accurately, the disruption of rhythm.
"The 1-3-1," Sprinkle said of the difference between a free-flowing first half, in which Weber State shot 59 percent, and the second half. MSU's flowing 1-3-1 half-court zone clamped down on the Wildcats, and Montana State used a 16-0 run midway through the second period to turn a frustrating night into an exhilarating victory.
"(It was) the same thing as down there, our guys' energy and activity in the 1-3-1" turned the game around, Sprinkle said, referencing Montana State's 62-61 victory over WSU in Ogden last month. Saturday's win gives the Bobcats their first sweep over Weber since 2005. "They ran a little bit different stuff (on Saturday) than they did down there against it, and it's hard. They still had some (open) looks. They missed them, but they're not (coming) out of their offense. It's a different flow. You're not taking rhythm shots."
Against Montana State's zone in the second half, the Wildcats shot just 24 percent, including 2-22 from the 3-point line. After Wildcats guard Cody John torched MSU for 18 points on 7-for-8 shooting (3-for-4 from the arc) before halftime, Montana State held him scoreless in the second half. Jerrick Harding scored 31 points in MSU's 62-61 win in Ogden last month, but the Cats held him to 16 points on Saturday.
"Our activity at the top (of the zone) was good," said MSU center Jubrile Belo, who capitalized on mismatches inside to score a career-high 23 points. He also grabbed 11 rebounds for his third double-double of the season. "We were forcing shots into other players hands, (not) Harding and John. We made the other guys make shots."
While Weber State controlled the first half with its hot shooting, Sprinkle wasn't displeased with his team's effort. "Credit to our guys, I thought their energy, even over the 40 minutes, (was good)," Sprinkle said. "I thought we played pretty well other than that stretch in the first half when we turned the ball over. I think they had 14 points off our six turnovers in the first half. But other than that, I think we played pretty clean tonight."
Montana State finished with just nine turnovers, forcing only eight. The Cats out-rebounded Weber 38-to-29. Like Bello, Harald Frey logged a double-double – his first of the season – getting 16 points and 10 assists without a turnover.
After MSU built a 28-19 lead midway through the first half, Weber State closed the half on a 21-6 run over nine-and-a-half minutes to take a six-point margin into the locker room. Michal Kozak's jumper on the first possession of the second half gave the Wildcats an eight-point lead. From that point on, it was all Bobcats.
Frey started the 16-0 run with a pair of free throws, then Belo's destruction of the Wildcats began. An emphatic dunk, followed by a layup, and an and-one cut the Weber lead to 42-41. Frey's leaner at the end of a break gave the Bobcats a lead they would never relinquish, and after a Wildcat time out Frey nailed a three-pointer, Adamu a layup and Belo an alley-oop to push MSU's lead to eight points.
Four points by Harding and two by Kham Davis trimmed the lead to 52-50, but Borja Fernandez responded with one of his four 3-pointers, and the Bobcats were never threatened again.
Fernandez finished with 14 points, while Adamu added 13. MSU made 14 of its 17 free throws and shot exactly 50 percent – 28 of 56 – on the night. Davis scored 10 points, joining John and Harding in double digits.
But the night belonged to the Bobcats. "The Big Sky this year is crazy," Frey said. "You have everyone beating everyone. The race for the byes is really, really close. Weber is right there with us, so in that respect, it's a huge win. It's also a big win because it's a momentum game. We were able to take care of our home court this week and keep building, because we don't want to play our best basketball now. We want to play our best basketball a couple weeks from now in Boise (at the Big Sky Tournament)."
Montana State raised its record to 14-11 overall, 8-6 in the Big Sky. The Cats remain in fourth place, a half-game ahead of Northern Arizona (8-7) and a full game ahead of Southern Utah (7-7). The top five teams in the league earn byes in the first round of the conference tournament. Weber State is 10-16, 6-9. The Bobcats travel to Portland State for a Thursday game before hosting Montana on Saturday.