(Editor's Note: Montana State Press Release)
BOZEMAN — It took a great pass, and a Great Osobor catch, and the resulting flagrant foul with 3.8 seconds to play handed Montana State a 60-56 win over Sacramento State in Worthington Arena on Thursday night.
With the Bobcats leading 57-56 and inbounding from the backcourt sideline near the free throw line extended, Darius Brown II flung a long pass to Osobor, who had circled behind his team’s formation before flying toward the MSU basket. He made the catch in stride and drew a flagrant foul from Austin Patterson. Osobor made one of his two free throws, then Brown II was fouled on the inbound of the ensuing possession and calmly made both of his to seal the Bobcat victory.
But the closing sequence was set up by what Bobcat coach Danny Sprinkle called a “big-time throw” by Brown II and a tremendous catch by Osobor. “I drew it up in the time out, we had never put that in, but I knew they were going to make it hard (to inbound) because they’re athletic and quick,” he said. “We had the jump arrow, so I knew if we got a catch they were going to foul and try to knock the ball away. And even if Great wasn’t open we had the floor spread out where we could get Rae or Tyler the ball.”
The play didn’t unfold exactly as Sprinkle drew it up. “The play was for me just to go, but (Jubrile Belo) was like, OK, I need you to run around and see if you’re open. Darius likes to think he’s a quarterback or something, so he throws it and I’m comfortable with my hands, I feel like I’m fairly coordinated for my size, so he threw it up there for me to go get it.”
Montana State’s three game-clinching free throws capped a night of charity tosses for the Bobcats, who drained 26 of their 33 free throws. Sacramento State finished 9-for-16. MSU’s prolific effort at the stripe helped overcome a 16-for-43 shooting effort (37.2%), which included 2-for-12 from beyond the three-point arc.
Osobor said his team’s ability to score from the free throw line is a primary characteristic. “It shows that coach wants us to be aggressive and take it to teams,” he said. “If we are in that situation where we’re trying to take it to the basket and someone’s going to foul us I’m comfortable with our team’s free throw percentage. We’re in the gym every morning shooting free throws. You go through stretches where it’s (difficult) to score, we have to execute like the coaches wants us to, but rather than just settling we (stay aggressive).”
Sprinkle agreed that his team’s ability to get to the free throw line is indicative of its philosophy. “Both teams I thought were aggressive, and that’s our strength,” he said. “It is. And we’re not going to go away from it. We’re not going to shy away from it. We want to get the ball in the paint with the drive or the pass. They’re big and physical, too. I knew it would be a game in the 50s. They control the tempo, and they made a lot more shots than we did.”
Both teams started hot. Montana State made six of its first seven shots and the Hornets four of their first six. The Bobcats led 20-12 with 12:44 to play in the first half, but that was MSU’s largest lead of the game. A 7-1 run allowed the Hornets to pull with two at 21-19, and they eventually tied the scored at 29 with 2:16 to play. A Tyler Patterson three-pointer at the first-half buzzer stretched the Cats’ lead to 35-30.
Neither team led by more than five in the second half, but with 2:28 to play Hunter Marks drained a three-pointer to give Sacramento State its first and only lead, 56-55. That shot stemmed from a defensive miscue that Sprinkle said emblemized the visitors’ ability to capitalize. “Even when we were playing hard we’d get tips for deflections and it would go right to them and they’d hit a three at the end of the clock. We missed a switch and Hunter Marks hit a three. They made us pay for all of our screw-ups.”
After that three-pointer Osobor made two free throws with 1:19 to play to flip the lead back in MSU’s direction and the Cats regained possession on a turnover, but gave the ball right back with 37 seconds to play. “We had a turnover, but we didn’t flinch,” Osobor said. “We just said, We’re going to get another stop. And we did.” That stop came on a missed three-pointer by Zach Chappell, and a turnover by Marks after he corralled the rebound to set up Brown and Osobor’s late heroics.
Osobor finished the night 7-for-10 from the line, while Belo made all seven of his free throws. Sprinkle’s never surprised when his two big men find themselves at the line. “They’re hard to guard,” Sprinkle said of Belo and Osobor. “It’s hard not to foul them, just like guarding (Sacramento State’s Callum) McRae. It’s hard not to foul him. (The Hornets) have big bodies that can bang with us, too, and that’s why they’re a hard matchup for us.”
Belo’s 17 points led all scorers, while RaeQuan Battle added 16 and Osobor 15. Belo’s eight rebounds also led all players. Sacramento State shot 44.7% from the floor and made five of 14 three-point attempts, out-rebounding MSU 37 to 23. McRae scored 14 to lead the Hornets, while Gianni Hunt finished with 11 points and a team-high five boards.
Montana State’s win, coupled with Eastern Washington’s victory at Weber State, locked the Bobcats into second place in the Big Sky standings. The team’s 20th win overall gives the Bobcats back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since the 1994-95 and 1995-96 teams each won 21 games. Sprinkle was a sharp-shooting freshman on the latter squad. The Cats are scheduled to host Portland State at 4 p.m. Saturday. That game serves as Senior Day for Belo and Caleb Fuller.