Game Recap

Bishop leads Montana State past UNC for first Big Sky win

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Matt Johnson and the Northern Colorado Bears looked like they might just shoot Montana State right out of Bank of Colorado Arena in the Bobcats’ Big Sky opener.

When Bodie Hume rattled home a 3-pointer through contact (the third triple of the game from the UNC All-Big Sky junior), the hosts had already hit 11 3-pointers less than four minutes into the second half.

When Johnson ripped his sixth 3-pointer in as many attempts with 11 minutes, 30 seconds to play, Northern Colorado appeared to be in full control. Johnson already had 20 points and the Bears held a 59-50 lead.

Then Montana State senior point guard took over where his predecessor left off. The former transfer from Missouri-Kansas City came to MSU in Danny Sprinkle’s first season, choosing to sit out due to NCAA rules while Harald Frey earned unanimous first-team All-Big Sky honors by leading the Bobcats to a bye in the Big Sky Tournament.

Bishop, a lightning fast yet diminutive (5-foot-8, 155 pounds) mighty mite, scored 14 of his career-high 28 points in the final 10 minutes of the game to spark an 18-0 MSU run that led to a 79-67 win at Northern Colorado on Thursday night.

BOX SCORE

Montana State guard Xavier Bishop in November/by Montana State Athletics

Bishop sparked the 18-0 run with a layup about 10 minutes into the second half and his third bucket of the spurt gave MSU a 61-60 lead, its first advantage since surrendering a 44-37 halftime lead thanks to a 9-0 UNC run to start the second half. When Bishop hit a 3-pointer in transition with 5:55 remaining in Northern Colorado’s fifth Big Sky game of the season, Montana State had a 66-60 lead.

His assist to Jubrile Belo a few minutes later helped the Bobcats earn a double-digit advantage for the first time in the game. And his fourth free throws down the stretch helped him surpass his MSU career high of 22 in the Bobcats’ 91-78 win at UNLV to open the season and tie his collegiate career high of 28 points, previously set in a game at UMKC against Eastern Washington in 2018.

Because of cancellations on Southern Utah’s part last weekend, Montana State had to wait until later than anyone else in the league to play its first Big Sky games. MSU had its “bye” during the weeks in December where the rest of the conference started and then could not host the Thunderbirds.

The Bears on the other hand played four league games leading up to Thursday’s contest. UNC beat Idaho State 69-64 on December 22 and lost 71-56 to the Bengals the following day. Last weekend in Missoula, Northern Colorado posted a 64-62 win thanks to Hume’s go-ahead bucket with one second left to beat Montana for the third straight time. But UM freshman Josh Bannan buried a 15-footer with 4.9 seconds left in Monday’s game to lift the Griz to a 56-54 victory.

Montana State had not played a Division I game since December 22 — the second stretch of more than two weeks between D-I contests for the ‘Cats — yet showed little rust in the first half.

Although the Bears started burying 3-pointers early — UNC went 7-of-16 in the first half and 12-of-30 from beyond the arc overall — a spark from sophomore Borja Fernandez (nine first-half points) and Bishop’s 14 points before the break helped stake the Bobcats to the 44-37 advantage. 

Northern Colorado forward Bodie Hume (13) in March of 2020/by Brooks Nuanez

Bishop, a southpaw whose father William played football at Montana, played all 40 minutes Thursday. He finished 9-of-13 from the floor, 3-of-4 from beyond the arc and 7-of-8 from the free throw line. He snared seven rebounds and dished out five assists to help Montana State improve its overall record to 4-3, a mark that now includes two wins in five contests against Division I opponents.

Belo, a preseason All-Big Sky selection, scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds for MSU. Junior Amin Adamu scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as MSU earned a 35-31 advantage on the glass.

Johnson never did miss a 3-point try but also did not score in the final 11:30 of the game, finishing with 20 points. Hume had 14 points and 10 rebounds while Daylen Kountz, a left point guard who transferred to UNC from Colorado last off-season, had 12 points. Hume and Kountz each shot 5-of-16 from the floor as the Bears shot 40.7 percent from the field.

MSU shot 63 percent in the first half and 53.6 percent overall, earning its first Big Sky win of the season despite making five 3-pointers, seven less than the perimeter-oriented Bears.

The two teams square off again in less than 48 hours. Tip for Saturday’s contest is set for 2 p.m.

Photos by Brooks Nuanez or noted. 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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