Brian Fish said his team “left it on the floor” following Montana State’s 83-78 home loss to Montana in Bozeman on Saturday night.
Less than 48 hours after taking the defending Big Sky Conference champions down to the wire, MSU left it on the floor again. And the effort resulted in one of the best road wins of the Fish era for a Bobcat team trying to finish with a flourish in the final season for their centerpiece.
Montana State put forth arguably its best defensive effort of the season Monday night in Greeley, Colorado. Northern Colorado built 10-point leads in the first and second half but Montana State responded each time.
Tyler Hall, MSU’s peerless senior and the all-time leading scorer in the history of the league, drilled a go-ahead jump shot with 56.7 seconds left to take a 67-66 lead. Hall snared the game-sealing steal with less than 10 seconds left. And the Bobcat icon buried two free throws to push the gap to three point and help secure a pivotal 69-66 victory.
“Being a senior, I’ve worked really hard and we have all worked to be in that moment,” Hall said. “I was excited more than anything. Everybody believes in me. That’s what everyone works for, that opportunity.”
The win boosts Montana State to 6-5 in Big Sky Conference play, 9-12 overall. Northern Colorado, a 73-70 victor in Bozeman last month, fell to 8-3 in league play, 14-8 overall.
“That’s toughness,” Fish said. “Nobody thought we could win this game because we are coming off this loss to our rival. To show the toughness we showed, that’s awesome. And you see in the locker room how happy they are. That was a war and we won the war.”
Northern Colorado reserve Trent Harris, who scored 14 points in the Bears’ win over MSU, hit three first-half 3-pointers to help UNC take a 21-11 lead. But Hall scored eight points during a 13-3 spurt that helped Montana State even the score at 24.
Keljin Blevins, MSU’s senior power forward, shook off an early-season slump to post an impressive three-game stretch. But he went 1-of-7 with the Griz and missed a pair of layups that led to two Harris 3-pointers in the first half on Monday.
But his old-fashioned 3-point play sparked MSU’s first half run and he scored eight points from there as MSU closed the first half down 32-21.
Hall hit three 3-pointers and scored 23 points, moving his Big Sky record totals to 381 made triples and 2,297 points. Blevins scored 13 points, including a critical bucket through contact to tie the score at 62. Sam Neumann, MSU’s third senior, scored nine points.
Blevins grabbed eight rebounds and Hall added five boards as the Bobcats won the battle of the glass 39-36.
“I thought it was a team effort defensively and on the boards,” Fish said. “To hold them to 42 percent shooting is a great effort. Winning the rebound battle is always a key for us.”
Fish switched up his rotation Monday. The fifth-year head coach has started Lassi Nikkarinen the last five games. The sophomore from Finland started in Greeley too, but played only eight minutes.
Fish went with Russ Daniels for 23 minutes instead. The junior college transfer did not score, grabbed four rebounds and notched two assists.
Daniels was part of an MSU defensive effort that limited Northern Colorado to 42.9 percent shooting, including 5-of-26 in the second half.
“We played really good defense and we rebounded really well,” Hall said. “That was the key to the game and that’s what got the win.”
Hall with the eventual game-winning jumper and some solid defense down the stretch propels us to a #BigSkyMBB road W.
— Montana State Men’s Basketball (@MSUBobcatsMBB) February 5, 2019
The Bears also missed 10 of their 23 free throw attempts. Daniels notched three of MSU’s seven steals and the Bobcats forced 15 UNC turnovers.
Montana State led for just three minutes, 40 seconds of the action. Montana State limited UNC senior Jordan Davis, the league’s leading scorer at 24.1 points per game, to 19 points on 7-of-18 shooting.
“Jordan Davis, we were going to live with 16-foot 2s,” Fish said. “He’s a fabulous player. We are holding him to one shot. We couldn’t make any shots to start the second half but we were able to find a way to stay in the game.”
MSU plays again on Thursday when the Bobcats host Eastern Washington for the third game in a stretch that will see Montana State play four games in seven days. EWU posted an 82-64 home victory over Northern Arizona behind 41 points from Jacob Davison. MSU lost 85-81 in Cheney earlier this season.
“That was a big win for us, going to get a road win as a team,” Hall said. “We just have to build on that going back home and keep taking steps to get better.”
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.