Big Sky men's basketball tournament

Adamu, Belo help MSU outlast SUU in overtime, advance to championship


BOISE, Idaho — Amin Adamu went from agony to ecstasy in the span of one overtime period.

The Montana State slashing senior carried the Bobcats down the stretch of the second half to take the top-seeded Southern Utah Thunderbirds into overtime in the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference men’s basketball tournament here on Friday night.

With his team trailing 77-76 with 40 seconds left in overtime, Adamu threw the ball away, giving Southern Utah the momentum in a game where the momentum swung back and forth for the duration of the 45 minutes of intense action.

But Jubrile Belo helped bail out the Bobcats with a huge block that led to a pair of Adamu free throws that gave MSU a one-point lead with 20 seconds left.

With 7.9 seconds left and MSU up 79-77, Adamu took a giant risk by going for a steal on an SUU inbound pass. The unbelievably athletic combo guard flew in and swiped the ball away, earning another trip to the free throw line.

By the time the dust settled, Montana State pulled off the upset of this tournament, surviving for an 80-77 win over the top-seeded Thunderbirds in overtime to advance to the Big Sky Tournament championship game for the first time in 12 years.

“The biggest thing I told myself and the team was to just stay composed no matter what, no matter what happens, one second, 10 seconds, just be composed,” Adamu said. “That was the biggest key.

“Before the game, I told the guys, we’ve already made history. Why not continue the legacy? And to do that, we have to be confident in what we do. We have to stay composed with every play we made offensively and defensively.”

Adamu’s heroics came on the heels of heroics from Belo to close regulation. Montana State’s burly junior center hit a right-handed hook shot in traffic as the regulation buzzer sounded, forcing overtime with the score tied at 69.

Both teams made clutch plays in big moments and also committed key miscues that helped the pendulum of momentum swing back and forth. In the end, the Bobcats pulled out the greatest win of the Danny Sprinkle era to earn a bid in the title game.

“I don’t think I’ve had a shot like that or a moment like that in my whole career,” Belo said. “It was unbelievable. I knew I was going to make the shot. But I wanted to be in that position my whole life. I wanted to be in the position to put my team with a chance to win.”


Montana State turned to its three stars while also leaning on an unsung hero to pull out its second tournament win this week and its third postseason victory this decade.

Montana State senior Amin Adamu gets downhill against Southern Utah/ by Brooks Nuanez

Adamu, a southpaw from the United Kingdom, used his endless motor and his unorthodox style to slash into the lane at will. He converted six of his nine field goal attempts, including two 3-pointers, in scoring 14 points in the second half. He scored six more in overtime to finish with a game-high 29 points to go with nine rebounds as MSU won the battle of the boards 43-39.

Belo, a bruising 6-foot-9, 245-pound junior who is also from the United Kingdom, hit the shot at the regulation buzzer, just one of several enormous plays the All-Big Sky big man made on Friday. He blocked eight shots, including one with 12 seconds left in regulation and another late in overtime when the Bobcats desperately needed a stop. He scored 22 points, grabbed eight rebounds and hit eight of his 10 free throw attempts to help MSU move on.

“What a 45 minutes of college basketball,” Sprinkle said. “That was exciting to coach and I know it had to be exciting to watch. Players all over both teams just making plays, making plays, making plays. I thought our team, we handled adversity as well as he have all year. You are down 10 at halftime? We just started trying to get it back in four-minute chunks.”

Montana State senior Xavier Bishop attacks the rim/ by Brooks Nuanez

All-Big Sky guard Xavier Bishop might’ve struggled shooting the ball — he finished 3-of-16 from the floor — but his double-clutch 3-pointer through contact at the shot clock buzzer late in regulation gave MSU a cushion it would need when SUU slapped on a ferocious full-court press that had the Bobcats flustered for a moment. Bishop’s assist to Belo forced overtime.

 And fifth-year senior Abdul Mohamed game up clutch whenever MSU needed it. In an extremely physical and intense game in which the officials let the action flow — Sprinkle praised the crew for letting the teams battle after the game — Mohamed came up with 14 crucial rebounds, including four offensive rebounds that led to six pivotal second-chance points.

“Games like this is why I lose my hair,” Sprinkle said. “It’s so hard because this game had so many momentum swings.

Southern Utah ripped through the Big Sky, riding the senior backcourt of John Knight III and Dre Marin along with their classmate Maizen Fausett to the first outright Big Sky Conference championship in program history.

After a back and forth first half in which the teams traded runs, Knight scored six points and Fausett added four as the Thunderbirds ended the stanza on an 8-0 run to take a 42-32 lead into halftime.

Montana State senior Abdul Mohamed drives against Harrison Butler/ by Brooks Nuanez

When a Mohamed rebound resulted in an Adamu second-chance bucket and a Belo bucket in the paint sandwiched a Marin 3-pointer, MSU had the lead down to 53-50 with 12 minutes left. The gap was never more than four points in favor of either side for the rest of the game.

Bishop’s last-gasp 3-pointer put MSU up 67-63 with 3:19 left. SUU responded with a five-point spurt capped by Tevian Jones’ 3-point play off of the second of what would become four MSU turnovers against Southern Utah’s press.

Montana State’s only bucket the final three minutes and change was Belo’s buzzer-beater to send the game to overtime.

“Games like this, it relies on toughness plays,” Belo said. .”We had to control the glass and limit them to one shot. That’s the biggest thing when you come down to the wire: limiting a team to one shot.”

Knight scored a career-high 34 points in the quarterfinals to lead SUU into the semifinals for the third time under fifth-year head coach Todd Simon. On Friday, MSU kept him out of the paint and made him work, although he did finish with 11 points and nine assists.

Many times, Knight kicked to open shooters and SUU knocked down shots from beyond the arc. Fausett scored 22 points and went 4-of-5 from beyond the arc. Jones scored 15 points and had 10 rebounds but shot 6-of-16 from the floor. Harrison Butler came off the bench to score 16 points and grab seven rebounds, including a 3-pointer late in overtime that gave SUU a 77-75 advantage.

Under Simon, Southern Utah has made it a habit to bust the bracket at the Big Sky Tournament. The Thunderbirds defeated the No. 2 seed in both 2018 and 2019, knocking out Idaho and Northern Colorado, respectively.

The feeling for the team was distinctly different after compiling a 12-2 league record and a 20-4 record overall to earn the No. 1 seed.

“There was certainly a bull’s eye on us,” Simon said. “We went from being the hunters to the hunted. They deserved it. We had a big target on us and when you have that target, you don’t have a huge margin for error.”

Montana State last advanced to the Big Sky Tournament championship game in 2009 behind a last-second win in Missoula over rival Montana and a tough win at Weber State. Brad Huse’s team fell to Portland State that season and posted just one post-season win after that.

Montana State celebrates after semifinal overtime win against Southern Utah

In Sprinkle’s second season at the helm for his alma mater, the Bobcats are now one step away from advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Sprinkle shot them to the Big Dance as a true freshman in 1996.

“Our big thing talking this week, since yesterday, is getting other teams into the deep water,” Sprinkle said. “It’s one thing you are walking into an ocean and you are up to your knees, everybody is cool with that. You start walking out farther, everybody isn’t built for that. I knew this team was built for that.

“I know we will have to do that again tomorrow.”

Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.

Montana State guard Xavier Bishop (1) finishes at the rack vs. Southern Utah/by Brooks Nuanez
Southern Utah Tevian Jones (5) drives baseline vs. Montana State/by Brooks Nuanez
Montana State guard Nick Gazales (2) nails a corner three in the fourth quarter vs. Southern Utah/by Brooks Nuanez
Southern Utah guard Dre Marin (4) shoots a three point shot vs. Montana State/by Brooks Nuanez
Montana State head coach Danny Sprinkle/by Brooks Nuanez
Southern Utah guard John Knight (3) attacks the rim vs. Montana State/by Brooks Nuanez
Montana State forward Jubrile Belo (13) attacks the hoop vs. Southern Utah/by Brooks Nuanez

About Colter Nuanez

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate ('09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 13-year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to found Skyline Sports.

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