(Editor's Note: Montana State Press Release)
BOZEMAN -- The Montana State men's basketball team used a balanced offensive attack and were effective from the free throw line late on Friday, March 5, to earn a 77-75 victory over Sacramento State in Worthington Arena. The victory improved the Bobcats to 11-8 overall, while their 8-5 conference record sealed a spot in the quarterfinals of the upcoming Big Sky Conference tournament.
Neither team took control of the game in the opening 20 minutes of action. MSU took its largest lead of five on back-to-back possessions midway through the first half, but Sacramento State responded each time with 3-pointers by William Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick hit his fifth trey of the game to give the Hornets their largest advantage, 36-33, with 39 seconds remaining in the half. A jumper by the Bobcats' Nick Gazelas on the ensuing MSU possession cut the deficit to 36-35 at halftime.
Montana State gained the lead to open the second half and wouldn't relinquish it the rest of the way.
Bobcat senior Abdul Mohamed hit consecutive 3-pointers to put MSU ahead 41-36 with 18:27 remaining in the contest.
"Abdul making those two 3-pointers was gigantic for our team's confidence," said Montana State head coach Danny Sprinkle. "It gave us the lead back and gave us a 4-5 point cushion. I thought we were a little more aggressive in the 2nd half."
The Bobcats led by as many as eight points, but a Fitzpatrick 3-pointer with 8:40 left put the Hornets down by just 1 on the scoreboard. However, MSU's next time up the floor featured another trey by Gazelas to give the 'Cats a 56-52 edge with just over eight minutes remaining.
Sacramento State trimmed at the margin and got it back down to two with 30 seconds left. MSU held on by hitting 21 of 26 free throws (80.8%) during the second half.
The Bobcats made all eight of their free throws in the first half and finished 29-for-34 (85.3%) from the charity stripe. The Hornets went just 13 of 19 (68.4%) from the free throw line.
"It was huge especially at the end," Sprinkle said of MSU's output at the line. "Jubrile was tremendous all game. He made his free throws which was huge for us. Nick, Amin and Xavier made a couple down the stretch that we needed.
"That was the key to the game. We knew we needed to get in the paint and get them in foul trouble. We knew we had to neutralize their 3-point shooting. Fitzpatrick was tremendous today, but that won us the game, outscoring them at the free throw line."
Sacramento State went 27-for-54 from the floor led by Fitzpatrick's 7 of 10 clip from 3-point range. He led the Hornets with 23 points. Ethan Esposito scored 17 points and corralled eight rebounds while Christian Terrell scored 11.
Montana State had five players score in double digits. Amin Adamu (18), Jubrile Belo (12), Gazelas (11), Mohamed (10) and Xavier Bishop (10) paced the Bobcats on the scoreboard. Bishop and Belo each made eight free throws with Belo making all of his attempts. Belo and Mohamed each had a team-high seven rebounds while Bishop dished out seven assists.
The Bobcat program clinched its first consecutive overall winnings season for the first time in 19 years with Friday's win. MSU clinched a spot in the Big Sky quarterfinals next week with its top-five finish in the conference standings. It's MSU's first time advancing to the tournament quarterfinals in back-to-back years since the 1998 and 1999 Big Sky tournaments.
MSU and Sacramento State are scheduled to finish the regular season with an 11 a.m. matchup on Saturday in Worthington Arena.