Big Sky Conference

Canda’s late shot lifts Vikings past MSU


BOZEMAN — After stripping Traylin Farris, Keljin Blevins went coast-to-coast, converting a layup through contact to give Montana State a two-point lead with two minutes, 15 seconds to play.

Holland Woods used his impressive ball handling to get into the paint once again, but instead of dishing out an assist for an easy Portland State basket — the talented freshman finished with 10 dimes Saturday afternoon — Woods lofted a floater that Blevins sent into the stands.

The block ignited the 2,915 fans at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. When Sam Neumann secured the rebound, tiptoeing the sideline before making the outlet pass, the Bobcat faithful seemed ready to erupt.

MSU moved the ball crisply on its next possession, making an extra pass that led to the ninth open 3-point try of the second half for the hosts.

Harald Frey, who shook off the illness that kept him out of practice all week, had hit four 3-pointers in the first half, including a buzzer-beating triple to give MSU all the momentum. Frey’s attempt with 1:33 left would’ve given the Bobcats an 80-75 lead and all the momentum in the world.

Instead, like all five of Frey’s attempts from beyond the arc after halftime and all 10 of MSU’s second-half-3-point tries, the shot came up just short. It’s becoming a frustrating trend for the Bobcats.

Portland State scored the final five points of the contest over the game’s final 93 seconds, including a clutch go-ahead 3-pointer from senior Bryce Canda to emerge with an 80-77 win in Bozeman on Saturday afternoon.

Portland State guard Bryce Canda (0) shoots a three vs. Montana State/by Brooks Nuanez

“We are missing shots but you can’t really hang your head during the game. Now, after, it’s frustrating,” MSU junior Devonte Klines said after scoring 11 points.

“The guys played really hard today,” Montana State fourth-year head coach Brian Fish said. “I can’t fault them for that. The attitudes out there were really good. We were fighting and scrapping and got back into the game and gave ourselves a chance.”

After surging to a 10-3 non-conference record, Portland State has battled illness, injury and disciplinary issues for most of the Big Sky Conference season. Saturday marked the fourth straight game senior guard Deontae North, one of the league’s top scorers, did not suit up for PSU because of an indefinite suspension.

Canda shook off his shooting slump, Brandon Hollins posted a monster double-double after missing PSU’s 93-74 win over Montana State Portland State, and the Vikings earned the weekend split after Thursday’s 80-60 loss at Montana.

“We went down 10 in the second half and our guys kept fighting,” PSU first-year head coach Barret Peery said. “I was very proud with how they kept battling.

Montana State guard Harald Frey (5)/by Brooks Nuanez

Rather than Frey’s 3-pointer boosting the Bobcats to a much-needed sweep of its home stand, the Vikings isolated 7-foot-1 giant Ryan Edwards to tie the game. The Kalispell Glacier product who spent four seasons at Gonzaga before graduate transferring to Portland State played a two-man game with sharp-shooting guard Michael Mayhew, eventually scoring in the lane with 1:14 left over Sam Neumann, who gives eight inches and at least 100 pounds away to the PSU center. The younger brother of former Bobcat center Jeff Edwards finished with 10 points in 17 minutes.

Frey committed an uncharacteristic turnover and Portland State put the ball in Canda’s hands to win it. The talented senior shooting guard hit his third 3-pointer of the second half and his fourth overall to give PSU an 80-77 lead with 18 seconds left.

Fish elected to not call a timeout with 18.4 seconds left despite having two remaining. He said he did not want the Vikings to set up any variety of their trapping, swarming defense and PSU did not have a timeout left. Instead, the Bobcats isolated junior Tyler Hall, who got a good luck with under five seconds left that hit the front of the rim, part of an 0-of-6 performance from 3-point land for Hall.

“We knew in a timeout, they would go and double team so we thought we’d be better off going at them and seeing what we could get,” MSU fourth-year head coach Brian Fish said.

Montana State forward Sam Neumann (4)/by Brooks Nuanez

Montana State fouled Edwards with four seconds left and the center missed the free throw. True freshman Derek Brown secured the offensive rebound, then crossed half court for a backcourt violation. After a review from the officiating grew that took seven minutes, the crew put 1.4 seconds left on the clock.

MSU used one of its two final timeouts when the Bobcats couldn’t inbound the ball. The second try, Hall got a clean look from dead on about 26 feet but the game-tying attempt glanced off the side of the rim.

“We didn’t know what was going on but we knew we were given another shot and we were confident,” Frey said. “We got the shot we wanted and we are taking that every day of the week.”

After a 4-0 start to league play for the first time in 13 years, MSU has been in a free fall, a skid that started during its first matchup against the Vikings. Since then, MSU has lost seven of its last nine. The Bobcats are 6-7 in Big Sky Conference play, 13-13 overall.

“We are going to get back on track, we are going to be fine,” Klines said. “We just have to finish games.”

The Bobcats shot less than 40 percent in five of its last six losses but shook that off to shoot 51 percent in a 92-76 win over Sac State on Thursday. MSU hit 29-of-31 free throws against the Hornets as Hall, the Big Sky preseason MVP, scored 28 points on 13 shots.

MSU shot nearly 50 percent again Saturday but made just four of its 18 attempts from the 3-point line, including missing all 10 of its looks from deep, most of them wide open, after intermission.

Montana State and Portland State dive for a loose ball/by Brooks Nuanez

“That’s all you can ask for as a coach is a good shot,” Fish said. “Sometimes, they don’t go in. For the game, we shot 49 percent and we will take that any day but we are frustrated that one or two of those looks from three didn’t go down.”

The Montana State lead swelled to 10 points, 61-51, as part of a 14-2 run that spanned the first and second half. But the Bobcats missed five of their 15 free throw attempts after halftime and finished 17-of-31 from the charity stripe.

“It’s tough not making what you are used to making,” Frey said. “We are all good basketball players. We all work on this everyday. That’s why we are here. We work on lay-ups, we work on 3-pointers, we work on free throws every day so of course it’s frustrating. It’s just tough and we’ve got to figure out how to bounce back from it.”

Less than 48 hours after making just 2-of-12 shots at Montana, Canda scored 13 of his team-high 18 points after halftime, including the eventual game-winning shot. He also shadowed Hall for much of the night in the half court whenever MSU broke Portland State’s relentless full-court press. Hall finished with eight points on 3-of-11 shooting, scoring just four points in each half.

Portland State head coach Barret Peery/by Brooks Nuanez

“I was so happy for Bryce because he has had some quote on quote shooting struggles that people have talked about but I have never once lost confidence in Bryce,” Peery said. “He had a tremendous preseason shooting the ball and he’s been up and down in league a little bit. But I thought the big key for Bryce today was he really lost himself in the game defending and making shots became easy for him.”

Hollins paced Portland State’s domination on the glass. The hyper-athletic 6-foot-6 senior set the tone for PSU’s defensive effort while also grabbing a game-high 14 rebounds to boost the Vikings to a 44-35 advantage on the glass. Hollins finished with 16 points to go with his 14 rebounds.

“Brandon has been tremendous,” Peery said. “His energy for us is key because even when things are a little bit of a struggle or we need a lift, he finds a way to keep us going.”

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With his family sitting court side — Frey hails from Oslo, Norway — Montana State’s point guard scored 14 points in the first half, including the buzzer-beater to give MSU a 39-35 advantage at the break. He finished with a game-high 22 points but hit 3-of-10 shots in the second 20 minutes.

“I’ve been in a slump lately and I should’ve made more than I did today, that’s for sure,” Frey said.

Montana State now faces a three-game road swing that includes games against three of the top five teams in the league. MSU plays at Idaho (9-3 in league after Friday’s 66-64 win over Eastern Washington) Thursday and at EWU (7-5) on Saturday. The Bobcats play at first-place rival Montana (12-0 in league, 19-5 overall) on February 24 before finishing the season with Idaho State and Weber State at home to end the month.

“We have to grind and we are in a one game at a time deal,” Fish said. “We are playing the top teams in the league so we have to be willing to fight and get after it.”

Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved. 


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.

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