Once Marcus Colbert and Montana State figured out San Jose State’s length, the Bobcats put on a show in their home debut.
Colbert shook off a 1-of-6 shooting to match a career high with 27 points as Montana State posted an 81-69 victory in front of 1,806 fans on Friday night. Coupled with the Montana State women’s 86-57 win over Portland, the Bobcats earned a pair of home-opening victories on the eve of the 115th Montana State-Montana football game in Bozeman.
The win also served as the first over a Division I opponent by the Bobcats this season. MSU lost to host Hawaii and Nevada at a tournament in the tropics. The ‘Cats beat Division II Hawaii-Hilo on the trip.
“There are 50 bridges to cross to build a program,” said Montana State second-year head coach Brian Fish, whose team posted a 7-23 record last winter. “You have to pay a toll on each one of those bridges. If winning was easy, everyone would be the New England Patriots. There’s a toll to be paid.”
Colbert shoot off a 2-of-7 shooting first half to equal the most points he’s ever scored in a Division I game. Colbert hit all six of his shots after halftime, including three from beyond the 3-point arc. He converted 8-of-10 from the free throw line as MSU hit 23-of-28. SJSU hit just 10-of-20 free throw attempts.
“Coach told us from the beginning that we needed to attack them,” said Colbert, who added six assists and four steals. “We knew they had length but just to be aggressive and go at them. In the first half, we settled for some early jumpers but that wasn’t the game plan. At halftime, Coach made it clear to all of us that we needed to be attacking the basket. That’s just what we did in the second half.”
The MSU roster has seven new players in the rotation. Five of them played more than 18 minutes on Friday night. Freshmen Tyler Hall made his first home start as did sophomore center Tyson Kanseyo, one of five junior college transfers added by Fish in the off-season. Junior guard Quinton Everett and junior forward Sarp Gobelglu each played more than 21 minutes. The Bobcats had noticeable jitters early.
San Jose State employs a staring lineup that includes no player shorter than 6-foot-5 and a frontcourt of two 6-foot-8 freshman and 6-foot-9 senior Frank Rogers. Early on, the Spartans flushed Montana State penetration and stifled Montana State’s up-tempo attack. On the other side of the court, SJSU got to the rim with ease in the game’s first five minutes in building a 6-0 lead.
Montana State used a 14-2 run to take the lead less than six minutes into game. Hall scored seven points during the run. Montana State would not trail for the final 34:50 of the game.
“I thought we might be a little excited the first game at home,” Fish said. “Then I thought we settled down and played really well. We changed the game today. There was no question who was hitting who on block outs and rebounds. That hadn’t happened in the first three games.”
Despite the size disadvantage, Montana State owned a 45-25 advantage on the glass. MSU senior Danny Robison grabbed a team-high nine rebounds and scored 13 points. Everett grabbed eight rebounds to go with six points. He aggression defensively, on the glass and the few times he took the ball to the hoop was noticeable.
“Coach preached to the guards that we had to help the bigs rebound,” the Gillette JC transfer said. “Me, Zach, Tyler, all the wings, Marcus, we have to go in there and do what we can to try to win on the boards.”
Colbert struggled getting any room in the lane early on. But Montana State slowed the pace by switching to a 3-2 zone. With Colbert searching for his rhythm, Gobeloglu, a 6-foot-10 stretch four from Turkey, hit a pair of 3-pointers. Green and Hall each scored seven points despite Hall sitting the final 12 minutes of the first half because of foul trouble. Everett came in for Hall and had two strong in which he finished at the rim on contact. He also grabbed six rebounds in the stanza.
“Coach wants me to get to the basket,” Everett said. “If I don’t have a shot, create for other players on the wing. More than likely, they are going to knock down an open shot. My main focus is to just get out there, play hard, make plays. If I can finish through contact, that’s what I will do.”
The Bobcat lead grew to 13 on a Colbert jumper in the lane less than two minutes into the second half. With 8:56 to play, Colbert hit 3-pointers on consecutive possessions. On the first, he crossed over his defender, stepped back and swished the shot. On the second, he pulled up from 25 feet-plus with a good amount of time still left on the shot clock. Fish began to yell at him before the shot snapped the net and gave MSU a 64-48 lead.
“Coach probably wouldn’t want me to shoot that,” Colbert said with a laugh. “I felt him glare at me as soon as I pulled up because there was like nine seconds on the shot clock left. I just felt it.”
“That one 3-pointer he hit, it was about 26 feet and it was a dumb shot all the way until it swooshed,” Fish said.
Everett’s layup on the following possession gave the Bobcats an 18-point lead, MSU’s largest. Jaycee Hillsman buried a 3-pointer with 3:19 left to cut the MSU lead to 70-61. Hall, who finished with 16 points, scored seven points in the game’s last few minutes, including a 3-pointer from the corner with 2:14 left to put MSU up 77-63.
“Effort, we played with a lot of heart on the defensive side, we rebounded,” Everett said. “We pretty much played for almost 40 minutes. In Hawaii we played like 15 minutes hard, some games 20 minutes hard. I felt like today we just had a better effort on defense and rebounding.”
Utah transfer Princeton Onwas scored 21 points to lead San Jose State. Rogers added 15 points for the Spartans, a team that has now played three straight Big Sky schools. SJSU fell 74-54 to Idaho in the Bay Area. Two days later, the Spartans beat Montana 64-61.
Montana State has a quick turnaround. The Bobcats play the University of Wyoming in a revival of the Border War. The game will be held in Billings on Sunday.
“The commitment from the volunteers to make that go has absolutely blown me away,” Fish said. “People have put in more time to make this work. I think this has turned out to be way better a deal than I anticipated. I know for a fact that Billings put on a heck of a show to get the Big Sky Tournament and it almost seems like we’ve rolled the energy of that over into this game. We have a chance to get 5,000 people there and turn it into a very good event against a really good opponent.