Game Recap

Bobcats go cold from deep in loss that hands Vandals first win

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Box Score 

MOSCOW, Idaho – The Bobcats proved that a 10-day break in the middle of a conference basketball season isn’t a recipe for success.

Coming off a 10-day layoff because of Covid-19 issues among the coaching staff, the Montana State men’s basketball team suffered through a historically bad shooting and could not rally all the way back from a hole that reached 11 points in a 74-69 loss to previously winless Idaho in Memorial Gym in Moscow, Idaho Friday night.

The win snapped streaks of 19 straight losses, including 16 in a row against Big Sky Conference opponents for an Idaho team in the second year of a serious rebuild under head coach Zac Claus.

Montana State worked its way back from an 11-point second half deficit and was tied with Idaho with two minutes remaining in the contest before falling short to lose for the fifth game in a row.

MSU started 6-0 in league play and were the last Big Sky team to suffer its first Big Sky loss. Since then, MSU has had series against Montana and Idaho State cancelled while being swept by Weber State and Eastern Washington leading up to Saturday’s loss.

The Bobcats scored the first basket of the second half on a Jubrile Belo layup to go up 39-38. The Vandals immediately responded.

Idaho went on a 12-0 run over a three-minute span keyed by five points by Ja’Vary Christmas and DeAndre Robinson apiece. MSU battled back as the Bobcats followed with a 13-2 run of its own to tie the game at 52 with 9 minutes, 40 seconds to go.

The two teams continued to go back-and-forth as Idaho’s lead grew to four on two occasions before the clock read 56 seconds and Idaho held a 68-67 edge. The Vandals exchanged possessions with the Bobcats, taking back-to-back three-point leads following a Damen Thacker jump shot and a pair of free throws by Gabe Quinnett. A missed 3-pointer by MSU’s Mike Hood with seven seconds remaining sealed the victory for Idaho.

Idaho took advantage from deep where Montana State struggled in the opening matchup of the two-game series between the two squads. The Vandals drained their first three 3-pointers of the game and eventually connected on nine overall. The Bobcats were 0-for-12 from 3-point range, marking the first time in more than seven seasons the Bobcats did not hit a 3-pointer in a game.

“That wasn’t the killer,” Montana State head coach Danny Sprinkle said of MSU’s night shooting from deep. “Idaho out played us, they out toughed us. They made nine three 3-pointers and shot well from the free throw line. They deserved to win the game.

“This one is on me. I didn’t have the team ready for what they went through the last 40 minutes.”

The Vandals made seven of their first 11 shots in the contest – and forced MSU into five turnovers in the first eight minutes – to jump out to a 17-9 advantage. The Bobcats hung in despite the slow start by going 14 of 23 from the field in the first half. MSU eventually ended the game shooting 52.9%. The ‘Cats shot 78.9% (15-19) from the free throw line, but the Vandals held the edge from the charity stripe by going 17 of 18 (94.4%).

Montana State was led by Belo who scored a season-high 24 points. He went 8 of 8 from the field and also 8-for-9 from the free throw line. He paced MSU’s 50-18 margin of points in the paint over Idaho.

Xavier Bishop (14) and Amin Adamu (12) joined Belo in scoring double digits. Bishop had a team-high seven assists while Adamu led the ‘Cats with five rebounds. Kellen Tynes contributed off the bench with eight points in 13 minutes of action.

“He competed, he guarded, he came in and fought,” Sprinkle said of Tynes’s performance. “He played with energy and had some urgency. I’m proud of him, he had some big plays that we needed. We needed more efforts like his.”

Thacker scored an Idaho-high 22 points. Christmas scored 11 points for the Vandals while he led the team with five rebounds and five assists.

Idaho earned its first victory of the season. Montana State fell to 9-8 overall and 6-5 in conference play.

Montana State and Idaho return for the second matchup of the Big Sky Conference series in Moscow on Sunday. The two squads are scheduled to tipoff the finale at 1 p.m. MDT in Memorial Gym.

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