Game Recap

ISU bounces back, affirms first place with win over MSU


In a showdown for first place that few expected, Idaho State bounced back from its first loss of 2021 by posting a crucial win over one of the surprise teams in the Big Sky Conference. 

The Bengals forged a 14-game winning streak that put them atop the league standings and in the Top 20 in the most recent Mid-Major Top 25 poll. Seton Sobolewski’s veteran squad won every game of this calendar year by employing the trademark toughness and defensive fortitude that has highlighted Sobolewski’s 12 years at the helm. 

Last week, Idaho State suffered a 73-56 loss to rival Idaho in Moscow for the first conference loss this campaign and the end of a winning streak. But ISU bounced back by snapping Montana State’s winning streak with a decisive 69-59 victory in Pocatello, Idaho on Thursday night at Reed Gym.

Although the Idaho State lead never swelled beyond 12 points and was in single digits for most of the evening, the Bengals never trailed in moving to 12-1 in Big Sky play, 16-2 overall. The loss dropped Montana State to 10-3 in league play, 13-6 overall. 

“Idaho State was more physical, tougher and executed much better than we did,” Montana State 16th-year head coach Tricia Binford said in a press release. “They picked us apart on our defensive mistakes and we lost the possession battle. Offensively, we stalled. We lacked movement and tempo as well as patience. We rushed too many shots.”

The Bengals and the Bobcats have had fierce rivalry for quite some time, particularly because Sobolewski and Binford are two of the longest-tenured coaches in the Big Sky Conference. During Binford’s first charge to a regular-season Big Sky title five years ago, the Bobcats had to hold off the Bengals in double overtime in Bozeman to clinch the title. 

In the first year of the neutral site Big Sky tournament, the ninth-seeded Bengals got a Juliet Jones half-court buzzer beater to end the top-seeded Bobcats’ NCAA Tournament bid. 

From Katie Bussey’s then-league record 41 points in Pocatello in 2011 to the more recent matchups, the Bobcats and the Bengals have always brought out the best in each other. 

On Thursday, Idaho State built a seven-point first quarter lead to earn authority early. MSU narrowed the margin to 19-17 but could never take the lead. ISU held a 32-29 advantage at halftime despite ISU shooting 50 percent and MSU shooting 33 percent in the first half. 

Montana State forged three ties throughout the game, including a 32-32 tie in the first two minutes of the second half. The margin was evened on a K.J. Limardo 3-pointer 94 seconds into the third quarter but a technical on Binford gave ISU a pair of free throws that helped the Bengals keep the visitors in check. 

ISU’s lead swelled to nine points only to see MSU respond with a 12-5 run and a layup by Ava Ranson whittled the margin to 46-44. ISU scored with 17 seconds left in the quarter to hold a 48-44 lead heading into the final stanza.

Montana Oltrogge, who led ISU with 14 points off the bench, hit a triple 30 seconds into the fourth quarter to give the Bengals a seven-point cushion. The Bobcats cut the margin to five points on three occasions, the last coming on a Madison Jackson lay-in with just under two minutes left, but MSU would get no closer down the stretch.

Montana State forward Gabby Mocchi (23) boxes out vs. Idaho State Thursday/by Idaho State Athletics

Sophomore Darian White paced MSU with a game-high 16 points. ISU put four players in double figures as Estephania Ors (12), Diaba Donate (11) and Dora Goles (10) joined Oltrogge. No other Bobcat scored in double figures. 

“We turn around and play them again in less that 48-hours,” Binford said. “We have to find a way to respond. We need to show some resolve.” 

The Bobcats will host Idaho State on Saturday at 12 p.m., in Worthington Arena. 

Photos courtesy of Idaho State Athletics. 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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