BOZEMAN, Mont. — Harald Frey has no use for artistic losses. He’ll take an ugly win any day.
And that’s what happened Thursday in Worthington Arena, when Montana State’s 56 percent shooting was enough to overcome its 19 turnovers in the Bobcats’ 73-69 Big Sky Conference men’s basketball win over Idaho State.
“It was a really good win,” Montana State’s senior guard said after scoring 17 points with six assists, five rebounds and a steal. “In the Big Sky this year everyone is beating everyone, so every single win gets us closer to our goal. You’ve got to be able to win it ugly sometimes, especially in February when teams have scouted everything you do.”
The ‘Cats led by as many as 18 points just over three minutes into the second half, but Idaho State converted Montana State mistakes into 24 points. The Bengals held the Bobcats to 41.7 percent shooting after halftime, and drew to within three points, 68-65, with 22 seconds to play.
But Amin Adamu hit two of his game-high 20 points from the stripe to stretch the lead to five, then made two more free throws with 13 seconds to play to seal the win.
“I’m glad the game’s only 40 minutes long,” Bobcat coach Danny Sprinkle said “I didn’t want to play any longer.”
Sprinkle credited Idaho State’s defense, and cited his team’s offensive miscues for the game tightening up in the closing minutes.
“The one disappointing thing is the 19 turnovers,” Sprinkle said. “I thought we were kind of soft with the basketball at times. We were careless. But I thought Amin played terrific, 20 points, 7-of-10 from the floor, and I thought he was good against the press.”
The Bobcats came out of the gates firing, shooting a season-high 69.2 percent during the first half. At one point late in the half, MSU had made 17 of its 23 shots (73.9 percent). Frey said the formula was familiar.
“I think we came out and played Montana State basketball” in the opening period, he said. “We played confident. We were believing in each other. We got stops. We were best when we’re playing defense, then we got out and ran. We were sharing the ball, we got the ball inside early, and that was huge. Guys stepping up, knocking down shots, being confident, when we play free and confident like that we’re hard to guard.”
Montana State leaned on Adamu, Frey and Jubrile Belo (18 points) offensively. In fact, the team’s five starters scored all 73 of MSU’s points. Idaho State got only 12 points from the bench, with Malik Porter (14 points) and Tarik Cool (13) pacing the Bengals.
Montana State committed 22 fouls on the night, with Belo and Ladan Ricketts each fouling out. Sprinkle cited Idaho State for turning those opportunities into points, regardless of the degree of difficulty.
“They played well,” he said. “They probably had 15 to 17 points on just crazy shots, banked threes, tough and-ones. They hit some really hard shots so credit to them. We were there contesting them.”
The Bobcats out-rebounded ISU 37-to-29, and while the Bengals snared nine offensive rebounds those turned into only seven second-chance points. On the other hand, the Cats were able to produce transition opportunities from their 32 defensive rebounds.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Sprinkle said. “I know they were concentrating on boxing out all week and going to the offensive glass, so for us to out-rebound that team by eight was a big-time performance by our guys. They’re a long, athletic team, and they do a really good job rebounding the basketball. I thought that was the key to the game, (that) and establishing Jubrile in the post.”
Belo’s presence inside boosted the Bobcats early. After winning the jump ball he converted a Devin Kirby high-low pass into a dunk on the first possession of the game, finished a fast break for a dunk a minute-and-a-half later, and recorded another dunk and a blocked shot before the first media time out. He added five boards and five blocked shots to his 18 points.
Even after dominating most of the night, the Bobcats still needed to execute at the end to hold off the hard-charging Bengals. With MSU ahead by nine with two-and-a-half minutes to play, Jared Stutzman hit a jumper to trim the lead to 68-61, then Porter’s dunk drew the Bengals within five with just under a minute remaining. Cheir Maker hit two free throws to pull ISU within three, but MSU’s dry spell of nearly three minutes ended when Adamu made a pair of free throws at the 13 second mark, and he made one of two six seconds later to seal the win.
Montana State raised its record to 13-11 overall, 7-6 in Big Sky play, with the win. Idaho State fell to 6-17 (3-11). The Bobcats host Weber State Saturday at 6 p.m. Fans are encouraged to wear pink with the contest a “Pack the Place in Pink” game. Any fan wearing pink will be eligible for a $5 ticket.
WSU fell 72-37 at first-place Montana on Thursday night. The Wildcats are 6-8 in league play, 10-15 overall.