Game Recap

Balanced Bobcats extend streak at NAU


The winning streak is at six games and the start to Big Sky Conference play is at five straight. The success is the best in quite some time for the Montana State Bobcats.

In Danny Sprinkle’s second season as the had coach of his alma mater, MSU is off to its best start in Big Sky play since 2005 following Thursday’s 62-51 win at Northern Arizona on Thursday night. Sprinkle’s balanced, talented roster has the Bobcats at 8-3 overall and on a six-game winning streak, MSU’s best since 2004 when Mick Durham, Sprinkle’s head coach when he was a Bobcat, was still guiding Montana State.

Thursday in Flagstaff, the Bobcats proved they can win in yet another way. The normally fast-paced, explosive squad used a deliberate style and lockdown defense to earn its fifth straight league victory.

Montana State senior guard Xavier Bishop (1)/by Brooks Nuanez

Northern Arizona’s Cam Shelton entered the game as one of the leading scorers in the country, averaging nearly 22 points per game to rank in the Top 10 in all of Division I. Thursday, he poured in 24 points, including 16 in the first half. But the Bobcats elected to let Shelton get his while shutting down the rest of the Lumberjacks roster.

Montana State limited NAU to 40 percent shooting overall and allowed just 10 made field goals outside of Shelton’s 10-of-20 effort. NAU redshirt freshman post Carson Towt, an emerging star in the league who scored 14 points to help Northern Arizona to a 62-58 win over Montana last weekend, added eight points. The rest of the ‘Jacks scored just 19 points and made just seven field goals in 28 attempts.

“You never know what guys will step up on what night,” Montana State head coach Danny Sprinkle said. “I thought Tyler (Patterson) and Nick (Gazelas) had 3-pointers that were huge. Borja (Fernandez) had a big 3. Devin (Kirby’s)’s minutes were great. Defensively, he did a really good job when Jubrile got into foul trouble.”

Offensively, the Bobcats prioritized balance. Reigning Big Sky Player of the Week Jubrile Belo led MSU with 14 points to go with seven rebounds, but it took Belo just five shots to get there. He also sank six of his eight free throw attempts.

Montana State junior guard Mike Hood (12)/by Brooks Nuanez

MSU senior Xavier Bishop slashed his way to 12 points but Montana State only needed those two double-figures scorers. Of the 10 Bobcats who played, nine scored, including eight scoring at least five points and four finishing with four points or more.

NAU’s 51 points were the least scored by the Lumberjacks in Big Sky play, while it was the lowest total the Bobcat defense has allowed this season.

“I thought we came out with some pretty good energy,” Sprinkle said. “If we score early, we seem to relax. I thought all night, to hold that team to 51 points and shoot what they did was tremendous. We really keyed on their two great shooters in (Nik) Mains and (Luke) Advalovic. To limit those two to zero 3-pointers combined, that was huge.”

Montana State returns to action in Flagstaff against Northern Arizona on Saturday. Tipoff in Rolle Activity Center is scheduled for 12 p.m.

Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.

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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