With the shot clock winding down on two separate occasions in the final 90 seconds of double overtime, Devonte Klines came through like a seasoned veteran with ice in his veins
In his 10th game in the starting lineup, the sophomore is anything but experienced in tense situations in Big Sky Conference play. But no one could tell as much when Klines drilled a pull-up jump shot in the lane to give MSU a lead it would not relinquish, then drilled a dagger from beyond the arc to seal one of the breakthrough wins of the Brian Fish era at Montana State.
Klines’ progression mirrors the progress of Fish’s young program and Thursday night’s 94-91 win over Idaho in double overtime is arguably one of the best wins of Fish’s tenure with the Bobcats.
“That’s one of the biggest,” said MSU sophomore Tyler Hall after scoring 31 points in 47 gritty minutes in MSU’s first double-OT game since 1998. “That was one of the toughest, too. I’ve never really been that tired in a game before.”
Klines gave MSU the lead in second extra frame, then hit a pair of free throws to push the advantage to 91-86 with 19 seconds left. Idaho freshman Trevon Allen and junior Brayon Blake made it interesting with buckets in the final seconds but Hall hit three free throws down the stretch to seal Montana State’s fourth straight win.
“There is only one way you grow up and that is going through experiences,” said Fish, who’s roster is the 312th youngest out of 351 Division I teams. “I’ve said it a long time to the team: everyone on our team has had to touch the hot stove to realize they are going to get burned.
“What we did tonight was through fatigue, through some things happening beyond our control, we continued to fight and play. That’s now 95 minutes between Idaho and Montana State and there’s a one-point total difference between the two teams. I’ve seen enough of (Don) Verlin’s team to last me a lifetime. But I love the way our guys fought, the way our guys got after it. How do you simulate something like that in practice? You don’t. You live it. And it’s better to live it with a win.”
Hall scored 31 points, the sixth time he’s surpassed 30 this season and the eighth time he’s reached the mark in his Bobcat career. In fitting fashion, the game-sealing free throws in the second overtime by the cornerstone of the Bobcat program pushed him past the 30-point mark for the first time in an MSU victory.
“We definitely made a statement and we want to continue making that statement,” Hall said. “We are not going to settle. We haven’t settled after our first one. We want to keep going and keep pushing and keep winning.”
The win moves Montana State over .500 in Big Sky Conference play for the first time since last February at 5-4. MSU’s first four-game winning streak since the 2012-13 season pushes the Bobcats to 10-12 overall. A team that once was mired in a streak that saw MSU lose nine of 10 is now tied for fifth with rival Montana in the Big Sky standings. Eastern Washington beat the Griz 72-60 in Missoula on Thursday night.
Montana State’s victory also avenges an 83-81 overtime loss to Idaho in Moscow 19 days ago. The Vandals fell to 4-4 in league play, 9-10 overall.
“I loved our fight and that’s something you have to do to win basketball games,” Fish said. “We walked away from that early in the season during our losing streak. Tonight, we kept fighting.
“To be good, you grind. Good teams never celebrate anything. They just grind. We grinded tonight.”
Klines has emerged as a real two-way threat after replacing senior Quinton Everett in the last game of MSU’s non-conference schedule. Klines scored nine of his 13 points in the second overtime, starting with a thunderous tomahawk dunk that brought the 2,620 at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse to their feet. His pull-up jump shot with the shot clock under four seconds gave MSU an 84-82 lead with 1:51 to go and his 3-pointer with six seconds on the shot clock gave MSU an 87-82 lead with 64 seconds left.
“I felt me gaining momentum after I hit that mid-range shot,” said Klines, a 5-foot-10 ball of muscle who transferred from Saddleback Community College in the off-season. “Coach, when I had caught the ball and there was like seven seconds left, he told me to shoot it. When I hear that, that will give me more confidence.”
Klines’ 13 points gives him double-figure scoring for the fourth time in conference play. He is averaging 9.2 points per game in MSU’s five league wins and continues to be MSU’s catalyst defensively.
“I love that kid’s fight,” Fish said. “Forty-two minutes, guarding their best scorer (Victor Sanders). Things go bad, things go good, he sets his jaw and keeps playing. I just love how he fights.”
Klines’ free throws came after the second 3-pointer in the last two minutes by Blake, a former junior college All-American who finished with 20 points. Blake’s 3-pointer with three seconds left cut the MSU lead to 93-91. Hall hit one of two free throw attempts — he finished 12-of-16 on the night from the stripe — to push it to three. Allen’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer was long and Montana secured its second win over Idaho since the Vandals rejoined the Big Sky in 2014.
Montana State had a chance to win the game with the ball at the end of regulation. Hall passed up an open mid-range jump shot, instead dishing to center Benson Osayande. But the lanky junior, who finished with 13 points, was called out of bounds. Nate Sherwood’s heave at the regulation buzzer rimmed out to send the game to overtime tied at 71. At the end of the first overtime, Montana State dodged a bullet. Idaho senior Pat Ingram went coast-to-coast and just missed a lay-up as the game went into a second overtime tied at 78.
“That really didn’t go the way I wanted to,” Fish said with a laugh. “Looking back, we did (dodge a bullet).”
Montana State fell behind 22-14 in the first half as Hall did not hit his first bucket until almost 14 minutes into the action. The Vandals took a 33-29 lead to halftime and stretched the lead to as large as nine, 46-37, with 13:09 left in regulation.
But smooth Montana State freshman point guard Harald Frey helped MSU claw back, scoring 10 of his 20 over a four-minute span that included an old-fashioned 3-point play to give MSU a 59-58 lead with 4:24 left. Hall followed with seven straight as MSU pushed the lead to 66-62 with 2:08 left before Idaho rallied back.
Vic Sanders, who finished with 18 points before fouling out in regulation, notched a four-point play to tie the game at 66 with under two minutes to play. The teams traded possessions for most of the rest of the game until Klines’ spurt sealed the crucial victory.
“It was a really tough game,” Hall said. “It was a good game to watch but a tough game to play. We just fought. I’m proud of all our team and coaches. We all stuck together. We owed them one from the last one.”
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.