(Editor's note: Montana State University media release)
BOZEMAN – Junior Mychael Paulo hit a 3-pointer with 24 seconds to play to key Montana State's game-closing 9-2 run, as the Bobcats beat South Dakota State 77-70 in Worthington Arena on Thursday.
For Bobcat head coach Danny Sprinkle, though, the key was the team's resolve.
"They don't panic," Sprinkle said of his team. "They know how important executing is offensively. They believe in our defense. They know we got to get stops to win games. If you look at that last 5 minutes, I don't know how many points they scored, but we made it really tough in front of the rim for them. They finally missed a couple a 3's, they're a good team."
Montana State's second half defense spelled the difference. The Cats held SDSU to 42% shooting on the night, 34.5% in the second half, and the Jackrabbits hit just five of their 20 3-pointers taken. Led by Devin Kirby's career-high 15 boards, Montana State out-rebounded the Jackrabbits 38-34. MSU also blocked seven shots in the physical contest, four by Jubrile Belo.
The game was tight throughout, but the Cats kept the upper hand most of the night. Entering the second half with a narrow one-point edge, the Bobcats slowly built on that lead. A jumper by Amin Adamu followed by a layup by Jubrile Belo pushed the advantage to five points, and a Harald Frey layup gave MSU a 46-39 advantage. After a SDSU basket, Frey's triple made the lead 49-41, and two Belo free throws gave MSU its biggest advantage, 51-41, with 15:26 to play.
South Dakota State had plenty left. Two Jackrabbit charity tosses at the 10-minute mark cut the lead to three, but Frey answered with a triple and after another basket he hit a layup to make the lead 59-53. That set the stage for a Jackrabbit rally. David Wingett's triple, a Tray Buchanan free throw, a 3-ball by Brandon Key, and a short Matt Dentlinger jumper gave South Dakota State a 62-59 lead.
That advantage evaporated shortly and wouldn't return. A three-point play by Belo put the Bobcats on top, and after a Buchanan jumper, Belo made two more free throws for a 66-64 Bobcat advantage. MSU would never trail again. Belo made two free throws and finished the night 5-for-5. In fact, the Bobcats hit 13 of their 17 free throws, while SDSU was 13-for-20.
With the game tied at 68, Harald Frey grabbed a long defensive rebound after a Belo block, then drew a foul and knocked down both free throws. After Dentlinger made one of his two charity tosses, Frey grabbed another board. Adamu's drive on the offensive end resulted in two made free throws, and a 72-68 lead. Wingett's basket drew the Jacks within two points just under the one-minute mark, but Paulo's three proved to be a dagger. He finished it off with a dunk in the closing seconds, and the Bobcats had earned an enormous win.
"We've been talking about all year that you never know when people are needed," Frey said. "We've been taught that next guy up mentality. I think Mychael did great just staying ready. He's had some bounce in and out here and there, and he was on the bench for quite awhile in the second half down the stretch.
"But he kept supporting the guys on the floor and when his moment came, he stepped up and knocked down the big shot and that really won us the game."
Frey scored a team-high 23 points for MSU. Adamu recorded a career-best 19 points and also added six rebounds. Ricketts (11) and Paulo (10) each finished in double digits. Kirby's 15 rebounds were the most by a Bobcat in a single game since the 1995-96 season when Quadre Lollis had multiple games with at least 16 rebounds.
The Jackrabbits had four double-digit scorers. Douglas Wilson paced SDSU with 16 points and nine rebounds.
Montana State improved its record to 6-3 with the win and tied the all-time series at 2-2 with the Jackrabbits. South Dakota State dropped to 6-5 in the defeat. The Bobcats travel for their next two games, with their next contest a nonconference matchup against North Dakota State in Fargo on Dec. 16.