Game Recap

Explosive backcourt leads Bobcats past PSU again


BOZEMAN, Montana — Every time Portland State gave Montana State an inch by allowing the Bobcats to secure defensive rebounds, Xavier Bishop and Amin Adamu took a mile.

The Vikings crash the offensive glass as hard and with as many players as any team in college basketball. But when the Viks don’t get the offensive rebound, it allows for transition opportunities for opponents.

Through the first 10 games of Danny Sprinkle’s second season coaching his alma mater, Bishop and Adamu have proven to relish taking advantage in transition.

And on Saturday, Montana State’s athletic, fast backcourt led the Bobcats once again.

Bishop got to the rim at will, earning himself 15 free throw attempts during a 22-point outing that serves as his third game of at least 20 points in MSU’s last four outings. Adamu, who poured in a career-high 36 points a week ago, added six free throw attempts and scored 12 points to help Montana State earn a 69-64 win over Portland State.

“When you do get a rebound, you have to transition on them because they are sending five guys to the glass,” Sprinkle said. “When you are pushing the ball, it’s pretty much a primary break and you can get easy ones IF you rebound it. Now, it’s easier said than done. But you have to make them pay for going to the offensive glass so hard once you secure the rebound.

“I thought X and Amin got a couple and we got out in transition. That’s critical when you play Portland State.”

The win moves Montana State to 4-0 for the first time since the 2017-2018 campaign. That talented Bobcat squad — the roster featured Tyler Hall, Harald Frey and Keljin Blevins, all three professional players now — lost 13 of 15 down the stretch.

Montana State senior guard Xavier Bishop (1) looks to create vs. Portland State Thursday/by Brooks Nuanez

“It’s an encouraging start but we have a lot of work today,” Sprinkle said. “Going to Flagstaff (Northern Arizona) is never easy to win. We still have 14 games left in league. It’s a long season and we just have to continue to get better.” (WATCH)

This Bobcat squad seems to have much more continuity, at least early on. Bishop and Adamu’s ability to penetrate compliments Tyler Patterson’s spot-up shooting (the freshman drilled three 3-pointers on Saturday.). MSU’s backcourt, a trio that also includes reserve Mike Hood who scored 19 points in MSU’s 71-64 win on Thursday, also compliments MSU’s front court led by All-Big Sky big man Jubrile Belo, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds on Saturday at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.

“We have been staying consistent and keeping our momentum going,’ said Adamu, who entered the game averaging 16 points per outing. “Once we got the sweep at Northern Colorado, we told ourselves we had to keep the momentum no matter who we play.

“We have to keep our momentum going and keep our same aggression and energy.”

Although Portland State built a 43-30 advantage on the glass — Portland State senior forward Khalid Thomas, a former Arizona State transfer, led PSU with seven rebounds — Montana State earned significant advantages by forcing 18 Viking turnovers and committing just 13 while also getting to the free throw line 36 times, making 25 from the stripe.

“I gotta draw fouls, I gotta put pressure on the defense,” Bishop said after making 11 of his 15 freebies. “I’m kind of mad at myself since I missed those two at the end. But I’ll definitely make up for it. Getting to the free throw, that’s part of my game.”

Montana State sophomore guard Nick Gazelas shoots a three vs. Portland State Thursday/by Brooks Nuanez

Engaging in their second matchups in less than 48 hours, Montana State and Portland State traded leads and momentum for most of the first half. James Scott’s 3-pointer 35 seconds before the break — he led PSU with 15 points — gave the visitors a 35-31 lead. Thomas, who scored 13 points, dunked with three seconds left in the first half to give PSU a 37-31 lead at the break.

“That’s a really talented team with really good guards who can make shots,” Bishop said. “We had to adjust and make it tough on them, make them take tough jump shots, tough 2s.”

But a pair of Adamu buckets highlighted an 8-2 run by the hosts to open the second half. A Patterson 3-pointer with 14:31 left gave MSU a 44-42 lead and was part of a 9-0 run to give the Bobcats a multi-possession advantage.

“We got off to a great start in the second half,” Sprinkle said. “They only scored two points in four and a half minutes. We won that first four minutes and that energy got us back into the game.

Over the final 12 minutes, Bishop and Adamu kept attacking. Bishop scored 10 of his 22 in the final 12 minutes of the game, including making 6-of-9 from the stripe. Belo scored eight of his 10 in the second half, hitting 6-of-8 free throws. And Adamu scored six in the final 10 minutes, 10 of his 12 overall after halftime, making four of his six free throws.

“They were more aggressive today than on Thursday in my opinion,” Adamu said. “They knew what their mistakes were. Our objective was just to maintain it and handle their aggression.”

Montana State junior guard Amin Adamu (5) attacks the rim vs. Portland State Thursday/by Brooks Nuanez

Montana State’s attention now turns to next week’s road trip to Northern Arizona. The Lumberjacks ended Saturday’s game in Missoula on a 12-0 run to earn a 62-58 win over a reeling Montana team. NAU is 3-4 in league play.

“It honestly don’t mean anything; the season is still going and haven’t done anything yet,” Adamu said. “It’s 4-0 but we still have the same mindset, do the same thing, win games and move on.”

Photos by Brooks Nuanez and Garrett Becker. 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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