(EDITOR'S NOTE: MONTANA STATE PRESS RELEASE)
BOZEMAN -- On a historic day by Montana State big man Jubrile Belo, winning time belonged to a guard.
Sacramento State's Zach Chappell grabbed an offensive rebound and drew a foul with 1.7 seconds to play, converting both free throws to propel Sacramento State to a 74-73 matinee win at Montana State Saturday to close the regular season. Each team heads to the Big Sky Conference Tournament in Boise next week.
"We had our chances," Bobcat coach Danny Sprinkle said. "We missed some free throws. A lot of the things we can control we didn't, and there were a lot of things we can't control."
For most of the contest big men Jubrile Belo of Montana State and Ethan Esposito traded blows. Belo made all 13 of his field goal attempts to tie a Bobcat record held by Doug Hashley and Calvin Ento for most shots made in a game without a miss. His 32 points were a career high, and the most points by a Bobcat since Harald Frey's 37 at Montana 13 months ago. Esposito also scored 32.
"(Belo) didn't have a lot of space, in fact they had two or three guys on him, and it's amazing he made that many shots with guys hanging on him," Sprinkle said. "I thought he did a tremendous job going 13-for-13. He's a load down there."
The game was close throughout, with the biggest advantage for either squad a seven-point Hornets cushion early in the second half.
Sprinkle lamented missed opportunities, particularly during a first half which each squad had opportunities to exert control. Sprinkle said the Bobcats had that chance "if we'd have made free throws. We probably missed two, three front ends of one-on-ones and we missed other free throws. We probably left six or seven points off the board from the free throw line. We had wide open looks in the first half, we had good looks, I thought we were moving the ball well, they just didn't fall."
Montana State shot 12-of-19 from the charity stripe Saturday, while the Hornets finished the day 20-for-24. Less than 24 hours earlier, Montana State won a 77-75 decision largely by finishing the day by outscoring Sac State 29-to-13 from the line. Esposito, backing defenders into the lane throughout the day, converted 12 of his 14 free throws and accounting for nearly two-thirds of the Hornets' productivity in that crucial area.
Sprinkle credited Sacramento State's ability to control the game late. "They had guys step up and make shots," he said. "Esposito in the second half, obviously we didn't have an answer for him. He's really hard to guard because he's aggressive, he's driving."
Sacramento State took a 30 29 advantage into the intermission and the Hornets used a 10-2 run coming out of the gates in the second stanza to capture a 40-33 lead. After Belo's dunk cut the Hornets lead to 46-41, Xavier Bishop's free throw trimmed the lead to 46-42 and after Chappell's short jumper expanded it to six, Bishop made consecutive baskets to tie the score. Nick Gazelas' triple with 10:50 to play capped a 12-2 Bobcat run and gave MSU a 54-50 advantage.
From that point on, the game's margin was more than one for less than 25 seconds. Each score was answered, and it set up the memorable finish.
With 91 seconds to play Belo converted a layup to give the Bobcats a 73-70 lead. Chappell made two free throws with 1:09 remaining to trim the margin to one, 73-72. With the Bobcats still not in the bonus, Sac State committed a couple of common fouls. Then with 10 seconds left, Borja Fernandez missed a mid-range jumper that Bryce Fowler rebounded. He turned that into a missed shot at the other end of the floor seconds later, but Chappell's rebound set up the foul shots that decided the day.
While Belo and Esposito dominated the scoring, several perimeter players found opportunities. Bishop and Gazelas scored a dozen points each for the Bobcats, with the former dishing out eight assists and snagging two steals. Fowler scored 15 points and Chappell 11 for Sac State. The Hornets out-rebounded MSU 32-28, but the Bobcats forced 13 turnovers while committing only nine.
Montana State finishes the most unusual regular season in memory 11-9 overall, 8-6 in Big Sky play. The 11-9 mark clinches a winning record for the Bobcats in consecutive seasons, the first time that's happened since 2002. Sprinkle becomes the first Bobcat coach with winning seasons in his first two campaigns on the MSU bench since Bruce Haroldson (1978-80). The Bobcats and Idaho State each finish league play 8-6 and square off on Thursday in the Big Sky Conference Tournament's Quarterfinals in Boise.
Sacramento State enters tourney play 8-11 overall, 5-9 in the Big Sky.