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Montana State men fall into early hole, can't overcome Idaho in Big Sky loss

Montana St Arizona Basketball
Posted at 12:07 AM, Jan 17, 2023

(Editor's note: Montana State athletics release.)

MOSCOW, Idaho — The Montana State men’s basketball team couldn’t quite claw out of a 12-0 deficit early in the first half against the University of Idaho Vandals, who picked up their first Big Sky Conference win in a 74-70 game in Moscow on Monday.

The Bobcats (12-8, 5-2 Big Sky) cut the Vandals’ (7-12, 1-5 Big Sky) lead to two points twice in the final minute thanks to three free throws from RaeQuan Battle, then a straight-away three off a baseball pass from Tyler Patterson that made it a 72-70 game with 4.1 seconds to go. Yet late turnovers and free throws prevented the Bobcats from completing the comeback.

“We had no energy,” Montana State head coach Danny Sprinkle told Bobcat Sports Radio Network. “They kicked our butts and they deserved to win — that’s what I told [Idaho head coach] Zac Claus after the game. They out-competed us, they out-toughed us and they also made big shots when they needed to. ”

Battle would lead the way for MSU with 22 points on 9-for-19 shooting, while Jubrile Belo had a 15-point, 11-rebound double-double. Eleven of his points came from the free-throw line. Darius Brown II rounded out the Bobcats in double-figures with 12 points, three rebounds and four steals.

Making their first three field goal attempts, Idaho bolted out to a 12-0 lead while the Bobcat offense came out flat. Montana State would get on the board five minutes into the game off a jumper from Brown II, who was effective from mid-range all night. However, MSU had a hard time shooting from beyond the arc; the Bobcats went 2-for-12 from three with their first make coming in the second half.

Relying on their patented zone defense to get back in the game, the Bobcats closed the half with six-straight free throws to make it a 31-29 game with under a minute left. Although MSU would manage only two field goals in the final six minutes of the first half, the Vandals couldn’t quite figure out the Bobcat defense and ended up turning over the ball nine times to MSU’s six in the first half. Yet Idaho reserve Michael Hanshaw stepped into a three on the Vandals’ final possession to make the score 34-29 at halftime.

Both teams struggled to score to the start of the second half until Brown II nailed another midrange jumper, then Battle stripped Idaho’s Divant’e Moffitt and scored an easy layup. But, in what would be a theme of the second half, Idaho guard Dominique Ford made a corner three to get the Vandal faithful back in the crowd. MSU would get within one point — a Patterson three in from the wing that rattled in to make it 39-38 with 15 minutes left — but wouldn’t get closer.

Needing a spark, Caleb Fuller attacked the rim and drew a whistle, then Brown II made an elbow jumper to pull within two, 44-42. Both Big West transfers answered the call midway through the second half, yet Moffitt sparked a 6-0 run that put the Vandals up 59-48 with 7:43 to go.

With under four minutes to go, Idaho left the door open for a MSU comeback thanks to missed free throws and Battle picking off an inbounds pass, which led to a layup and a 62-59 game in favor of the Vandals. Idaho countered, but four-straight free-throws from Belo and Brown II made it a one-point possession once again. The Bobcats caught their first break when Battle was fouled on a corner three with 26 seconds to go, yet he would go two for three.

MSU had a chance to tie the game with 20 seconds to go. Trailing 70-67, Moffitt split another pair of free-throws, then Brown II and the Bobcats bolted downcourt. Brown II drove into the lane and found Battle in the corner, who missed his three point attempt, then Brown II also came up short by missing the offensive put-back at the rim. Patterson’s baseball pass to Battle made things interesting late, but the Vandals sealed the 74-70 win at the charity stripe.

Vandals senior guard Divant’e Moffitt led all scorers with 32 points on 9-for-17 shooting, while Dominique Ford added 16 points on timely corner threes. Ford finished with more made threes (four) than Montana State (two).

Next up for the Bobcats is the first of two games in the Brawl of the Wild rivalry series against the University of Montana, held in Missoula, Mont. on Saturday, Jan. 21.