Tyler Hall, Marcus Colbert and the Bobcats did not forget the way things ended in Greeley in January. Thursday in Bozeman, Montana State wasted no time of dispatching of visiting Northern Colorado.
In the first matchup, UNC escaped with a two-point win decided in the final minute. On Thursday, Montana State burst out to a 10-2 lead thanks to 3-pointers from each of its three starting guards —Hall, Colbert and Quinton Everett. MSU went cold for five and a half minutes before catching fire, ripping off a 22-8 run to take a 42-28 lead into halftime. The lead eventually swelled to 23 and settled with an 81-63 MSU win in front of 2,227.
“We couldn’t score but we were getting stops so it wasn’t hurting us,” Hall said. “We were getting run outs from the deflects and that sparked us.
“We wanted to definitely snap that three-game losing streak and get a two-game winning streak going into the tournament. It’s a neutral court and we want to have a bunch of energy going into the tournament.”
Colbert, Montana State’s unflappable yet weary senior point guard, battled through a slow shooting start to finishing with 24 points. Hall, Montana State’s all-time leading freshman scorer with every bucket he converts, poured 15 of his 20 before halftime and Montana State kept its hopes for the seventh spot in next week’s Big Sky Conference tournament alive. The 8-9 Bobcats can finish no higher than seventh and no lower than eighth. Portland State posted an 89-81 victory over Northern Arizona Thursday to move to 7-10. If MSU and PSU finish tied for 7th, the Vikings own the tie-breaker via a season sweep of the Bobcats. UNC is now 6-11 in league and can finish no higher than ninth.
“Coach told us in the huddle before the game he doesn’t know if we are going to make shots or mix shots but the one thing that had to be great was our defense,” Colbert said.
The win doubles MSU’s Big Sky win total from Brian Fish’s first season. The Bobcats are now 13-16 after snapping a three-game losing streak with one game to play. MSU hosts surging North Dakota on Saturday afternoon.
“I thought it was our prettiest defensive game,” Fish said following the 20th victory of his career. “I thought we started out good defensively, got in a lull and settled for bad jumpers and instead of forcing shots, we came back, got defensive stops and got out in transition. They were down a player tonight (Dallas Anglin) but I thought against a very talented team, we had some of their better players confused and frustrated and I loved our defensive effort.”
Anglin, a Southern Miss transfer averaging 13 points per game this season, did not make the trip. Junior Anthony Johnson, UNC’s leading scorer at 15.5 points per game, managed just 11 shots and 11 points with MSU junior Quinton Everett draped all over him. Jordan Wilson, an explosive junior who averages 13.3 points per game, managed just seven shots and three points because of one of Hall’s better defensive performances of his career.
“Quinton can eliminate a guy,” Fish said. “Sometimes, he goes and gets rebounds that are just man rebounds or gets strip or blocks a shot. He always has one or two plays when he is playing well that are changers of momentum.”
In a game of statistical anomalies, Montana State converted 25 field goals to UNC’s 23. The Bobcats hit nine 3-pointers, jus two more than the Bears. But MSU committed just seven turnovers, including just four in the first 38 minutes of action while forcing 15 by UNC.
The hosts held their largest advantage at the free throw line. MSU converted 22-of-24 from the stripe, shooting eight more and making 12 more than UNC. It was the first time sine January 14 that the Bobcats shot more free throws than an opponent. Colbert hit all seven of his free throws and Hall converted all six of his attempts.
“I thought the name of the game was we shot more free throws than our opponent,” Fish said. “That’s truly a game-changing play. When you have Tyler and Marcus go 13-of-13, that makes the basket look bigger for everyone else.
“Most contagious play in basketball is free throws. You can’t be guarded up there. If someone starts making them, it’s huge. If someone starts missing, that basket looks like a Catholic communion cup.”
After a 4-of-12 shooting start, Colbert caught fire, hitting 3-of-5 and scoring 14 points after halftime. He hit all three of his second-half 3-pointers on second-chance opportunities. The Post Falls, Idaho native now has 1,327 points, 15th most in Bobcat history. Colbert had two assists, giving him 445 assists, second-most in MSU history. His contest Thursday marked his 120th game as a Bobcat. He will break Bill Salonen (1952-1956) record for career games at MSU on Saturday.
“It feels good to be blessed to play in that many games,” Colbert said. “I have mixed emotions with the season coming to an end and Saturday being my last game in the Brick. But I’m more focused on getting this win and going into the tournament with a little momentum.”