Big Sky Conference

Bobcats take out UNLV in opener


Danny Sprinkle wondered how much juice — and more importantly, how many available bodies — his Montana State men’s basketball team would have for its long-awaited season-opener in Las Vegas.

Xavier Bishop and the Bobcats had plenty of bodies, plenty of juice in dismantling UNLV 91-78 in Sin City on Wednesday night, the opening day of college basketball across the country.

The season-opening win for the Bobcats was the first true road victory to begin a campaign since MSU defeated Washington in Seattle to start the 2002-03 season.

“Huge win for these guys,” Sprinkle said. “I’m proud for the program, proud for these guys. All the stuff they’ve been through since last March, it’s not just us, but I’m happy these guys got rewarded for it. They’ve put in a lot of hard work and they just competed. They really played together.”

Jubrile Belo, pictured last season/ by Brooks Nuanez

Sprinkle, Montana State’s second-year head coach, rolled out a revamped roster that only includes one player recruited by former head man Brian Fish (Devin Kirby), rolled out a starting lineup that included returners senior Amin Adamu along with leaned up versions of junior post Jubrile Belo and sophomore forward Borja Fernandez.

Belo carried the Bobcats to an impressive first half 49-31 lead by scoring 12 points. In the second half, Biship took over. The fifth-year senior transfer point guard who spent his first three college years at Missouri-Kansas City jetted his way to 22 points and four assists to help buoy Montana State to the victory, marking only the eight time in the last 49 home openers at UNLV that the Runnin’ Rebels have lost the game.

“He’s just a little magician with the ball,” Sprinkle said of Bishop. “He’s really hard to guard. Our spacing was really good, it was way better than I expected it to be. It opened up some driving lanes for him and I thought he did a good job finding guys too. When the defense collapsed, he can fire that thing to shooters and you have to respect it. “

“I’m super happy for X, he’s been chopping at the bit for this thing.”

Montana State used a 10-2 run early to gain separation from the hosts. And the efficient offense continued. When true freshman Kellen Tynes dished an assist to junior college transfer Nick Gazelas for a 3-pointer, the Bobcats led 35-18 with four minutes left in the first half.

The Bobcats led for all but 95 seconds of the game. MSU led by as many as 22, 73-51 with 8:24 left. And the lead did not dip below the final margin until the game ended.

Belo and Adamu each had 14 points for MSU, with Belo racking up a team-high 8 rebounds. Gazelas scored 11 points on 3 of 5 from deep in his Bobcat debut. Fernandez added seven points and six rebounds. Abdul Mohamedmade his MSU debut and scored 8 points on 4 of 5 shooting. Freshman Tyler Patterson went 3-for-3 from the 3-point land.  

Bryce Hamilton led UNLV by scoring 27 points and recording eight rebounds. The Rebels finished the game shooting over 45 percent but had 18 turnovers. 
MSU’s 91 points were the most by a Bobcat team in a season opener since the 1997-98 squad topped Simon Fraser 107-59. Bobcats won just their second season opener since the 2003-04 campaign, previously earning an overtime victory over Omaha in Great Falls, Mont., to begin the 2017-18 schedule.

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.