Chris Bowling entered Saturday’s New Year’s Eve matinee at Walkup Skydome playing nine minutes a game.
But the 6-foot-7 forward has always been a thorn in Tyler Hall’s side. Monday afternoon in Flagstaff, Bowling’s pestering of Montana State’s star guard combined with his best offensive outing of the season helped lift Northern Arizona to a 74-68 win.
Bowling’s offense might have been an even bigger boost for the Lumberjacks. He entered the game with 15 points total this season. He was 5-of-24 from the floor and 3-of-14 from the arc in 11 games.
Monday, he hit 4-of-9 from deep, including a dagger with 12 seconds left to push the lead to 70-64 with 12 seconds left. Bowling scored 17 points, including 14 after halftime as he played 16 minutes in the second half and 24 overall.
A season ago, Bowling was the primary defender against Hall, holding the NBA prospect to 4-of-18 shooting including 1-of-12 from beyond the 3-point arc in MSU’s 76-73 victory in Flagstaff. Hall was 1-of-7 from beyond the arc, 2-of-8 overall and finished with eight points in MSU’s 77-75 loss to NAU in Bozeman.
Coming off of one of the most efficient offensive performances of the Brian Fish era — the Bobcats had 20 assists, hit 13 3-pointers and ripped Southern Utah 92-62 on Saturday — only MSU point guard Harald Frey found any flow offensively on Monday.
Bowling badgered Hall into 5-of-12 shooting for 12 points. Hall passed former Weber State star Jeremy Senglin for third place all-time in career scoring (Hall is up to 2,082 career points ) but less than 48 hours after shooting 50 percent as a team, MSU struggled to find the mark.
Frey scored 15 points in the first nine minutes of the game and 17 in the first half overall. Before scoring seven points in the last 41 seconds, Frey had just one other bucket in the second half during his 26-point outing.
Frey’s third 3-pointer in as many tries gave Montana State a 20-12 lead with 11:40 left in the first half. That would be MSU’s biggest advantage.
From there, NAU mounted an advantage on the glass and started running pick-and-roll to get the ball into the paint. Northern Arizoan won the battle of the boards 41-29 thanks to 11-rebound double-doubles from Bernie Andre and Brooks DeBisschop. Andrew led NAU with 15 points, DeBisschip scored 11 and Carlos Hines dished out nine of NAU’s 19 assists.
“All rebounding, effort, stuff like that where you have to have that little burst of energy in the second half and we had a back-to-back, we know that and we didn’t respond,” Fish said.
“We looked a little fresher in the first half, had some ball movement, changed the game on defense,” Fish said. “We started down on them early in the boards. Then we got back into where we were tied on the boards and it changed the game. Late in the half, they got back into it by rebounding and they continued that rebounding in the second half.”
The Lumberjacks and Bobcats shot identical 7-of-22 from 3-point land but NAU scored 18 of its 30 points in the paint after halftime to win the second stanza by nine points.
MSU center Devin Kirby scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds but the Bobcats fell to 1-1 in league play, 4-8 overall.
The win snapped a seven-game losing streak for NAU, which moves to 3-9 overall. The victory is also Northern Arizona’s first at Walkup Skydome in 667 days. NAu’s last win at its home dome came on March 4 of 2017 against Eastern Washington.