BOZEMAN, Montana — As the Norwegian national anthem played, Harald Frey tried to hold back tears as his gazed at the flag of his native country, the reality of the moment setting in.
Four years ago, former Montana State head coach Brian Fish and current Bobcat assistant Chris Haslam took a chance on a boyish lefty from Oslo, Norway. Saturday afternoon at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse, one of the most beloved Bobcats to sever suit up for MSU played his final game at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.
In between, Frey became just the second player in the Big Sky Conference to score more than 1,800 points and dish out more than 500 assists. And in his final season with the ‘Cats, Frey has helped Montana State overachieve more than any other team in the Big Sky Conference.
Frey’s Senior Day celebration in front of 3,519 fans did not play out in storybook fashion. In fact, far from it as Frey was left with tears in his eyes after the game as well.
Northern Colorado trapped Frey for most of his 34 minutes of action, forcing him to get rid of the ball more often than not. UNC senior Jonah Radebaugh shadowed Frey for most of the night, not letting one of the Big Sky’s best scorers get any sort of room, particularly from beyond the arc.
And on the other end, Radebaugh, Trent Harris and Bodie Hume unleashed a 3-point barrage that left Frey and the Bobcats with no answers. Whether MSU played its patented 1-3-1 zone or man-to-man defense, all three of Northern Colorado’s primary shooters found the mark from beyond the arc.
The visiting Bears held Frey to 14 points, including just three made field goals and traded MSU’s domination of the paint for 3-pointers of their own on the way to a 75-61 victory. The win moves Northern Colorado to 15-5 in Big Sky play and 22-9 overall.
Frey finished his final game at the Brick with 14 points, nine of which came at the free throw line. With his parents in attendance from the other side of the globe, Frey battled with Radebaugh, a two-time Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year, for most of the game. Despite losing in his final game at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse, Frey chose to embrace his good memories.
“This game, it meant a lot to me and it means a lot to me. I feel like I kind of grew up here,” Frey said. “I came here as a young 18-year-old and now I feel like I am my own man. The fans, they showed their love for me and that national anthem is a moment I will never forget.”
UNC has won seven of its last eight games entering the Big Sky Tournament next week in Boise, Idaho. The Bears are the No. 2 seed for the second year in a row and swept a road trip through Montana leading up to the tournament. The 20-win season is the third straight under fourth-year head coach Jeff Linder. The program had three 20-win seasons in its history before Linder was hired.
“They are a great team and there is a reason they are one of the best teams in the conference,” Frey said. “It’s tough.”
The Bears drilled 16 3-pointers in 31 attempts. The visitors also held the Bobcats to 2-of-11 shooting from deep. Frey missed both of his tries from beyond the arc. Fellow MSU senior Ladan Ricketts missed his only 3-point attempt.
“They do an unbelievable job of trailing over every single screen and they make you throw the ball into the paint,” MSU head coach Danny Sprinkle said. “There are times you have to fight through it and get through it. They make you beat them with 2s and gambling that they will make enough 3s. When you make 16 3s, that’s dang near 50 points. That’s 25 made layups. It’s hard to overcome.”
Montana State sophomore center Jubrile Belo dominated his matchups in the paint with the Bears denying all MSU’s guards on the perimeter. He finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds in 34 minutes before fouling out.
“My coaches always emphasize feeding me the ball and I tried to use my size but we just didn’t have enough time tonight,” Belo said.
But it seemed every time Belo converted on the block, Northern Colorado would answer with a 3-pointer. Radebaugh, one of the league’s leading MVP candidates, drilled five of his first six shots from beyond the arc and scored 17 points to lead UNC to a 38-35 halftime lead.
Harris drilled three 3-pointers before halftime and four more after halftime, including several daggers to halt MSU runs or give the visitors breathing room. He finished with 24 points, tying his season high.
“Coach Linder does a great job of coaching those guys and knowing where the mismatches are and attacking them,” Sprinkle said. “You have to pick your poison with them. You can pack the paint and they will spray it out and hit 3s or you can try to stay with the shooters and you give up lay-ups at the rim.
“It’s really hard because Jonah is so good with the ball and Harris shot it really well tonight again. Bodie Hume is a mismatch. They are really, really hard to defend and you kind of have to hope they are not shooting lights out. But they did tonight.”
And Hume, the Big Sky Freshman of the Year last season, shoot off a 1-of-7 performance in the first half to nail three triples in the second half during a 12-point night. Radebaugh, Harris and Hume combined to hit 14 of their first 23 tries from distance. Then Harris hit two 3-pointers in the final 2:27 to push the gap to double figures for good.
“I thought they shot the ball terrifically,” Frey said. “Harris and Radebaugh were making plays all night. They were making the extra play, the extra read. They guarded me a couple different ways and they made it difficult. Both sides, they kept making the right read.
“We cut it down late but they came up with a few big plays down the stretch.
Despite the loss, Montana State will also have a first-round bye at next week’s Big Sky Tournament. The Bobcats finish the regular-season with a 10-10 mark in league play, good enough for the No. 5 seed. MSU is 16-14 overall, its best record in a decade, in head coach Danny Sprinkle’s first year at the helm. Regardless of Saturday’s results, the Bobcats would’ve played Portland State in the quarterfinals of the league tournament on Thursday.
“From here on out, we don’t have another game,” Sprinkle said. “You have to play that 40 minutes like it is your last because if you don’t win, it is your last.”
Now Frey will be tasked with the same challenge he has shouldered all year: the Bobcat captain will have to help his squad bounce back once again. A Bobcat team with seven newcomers that is largely rebuilding under a head coach in his first-ever season guiding a program has been on the wrong side of some embarrassing losses this season.
Whether it was a 78-64 loss at rival Montana or 74-49 loss at league-champion Eastern Washington or an 81-52 loss at Sac State last week, the Bobcats have found ways to respond. And Frey has led the way, using his steady demeanor and sneaky competitiveness to help Montana State earn its first tournament bye since the league moved the postseason to a neutral site five years ago.
“We will take until midnight until we forget about this game and we have to look ahead,” Frey said. “This team has bounced back countless times throughout the season and now we have to bounce back once more.
“Now every game is the end of the road. Every game, the season is on the line. We cannot dwell on this game too long. We have to move on.”
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.