Playing to lift a head coach with a heavy heart for the second straight outing, Montana State’s emerging “Big Three” came up again and a Southwest Montana product’s ability to slice Idaho State’s zone defense proved to be the difference as the Bobcats won their fourth straight.
In a back and forth contest between two of the Big Sky Conference’s best shooting teams, seniors Keljin Blevins and Tyler Hall gave MSU breathing room in a second half that stuck at a margin of a single possession for the first 12 minutes. In the final four minutes, MSU junior point guard Harald Frey continued bolstering his all-conference candidacy. And junior Ladan Ricketts, a native of Livingston, Montana, hit four straight clutch free throws down the stretch to lift Montana State to an 84-76 win over Idaho State in Pocatello on Thursday night.
Hall, Blevins and Frey have emerged as one of the most potent threesomes in the league since the calendar turned to 2019. Since a 93-84 home loss to Weber State capped a three-game losing streak, the trio have been the catalysts for MSU’s recent strong stretch.
MSU posted a 104-84 victory over ISU in Bozeman. behind 31 points from Frey, 26 from Hall and 16 from Blevins. The Bobcats lost to rival Montana 83-78 despite 26 points from Hall and a 15-point, 10-assist double-double from Frey its next time out. Since then, MSU has turned the corner, solidifying its status as a Big Sky contender.
Hall scored 23 points and led MSU to a crucial 69-66 win at then first-place Northern Colorado less than 48 hours after the Cat-Griz loss. Frey followed that with a 22-point, eight-assist performance to lift the Bobcats to a 74-66 win over Eastern Washington. Frey scored 17 points and dished out seven assists, Blevins scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds and Montana State beat Idaho 86-72 a day after learning of the passing of head coach Brian Fish’s daughter at the age of 29.
Thursday in Pocatello, all three contributed again. And Ricketts’ ability to shred ISU’s zone defense — he hit three of his four 3-pointers in the first half, then hit four free throws in the final 30 seconds during an 18-point outing — helped Montana State move to 9-5 in Big Sky play.
Montana State hit 13 triples overall, including five by Hall, the Big Sky’s all-time leader in made 3-pointers. The league’s all-time leading scorer finished with 17 points. Blevins hit one 3-pointer and bulled his way to 20 points, raising his average to 16.2 points per game over the last five. And Frey continued his clutch play in crunch time, scoring 16 of his team-high 21 points in the final 15 minutes of the game.
“They were the first team that zoned us for 38 minutes,” Fish said. “We knew it was coming, we anticipated it, but we still did some standing around in the first half. We just didn’t get the ball moving, but the guys figured it out, hit some big shots, got it done.
“We flipped the script on them in the second half. We went to a zone with about eight minutes left and that was good for us. We got their (field goal) percentage down, we kept them from hitting the big shot in the second half.”
Alonzo Walker’s dunk set the contest to the under-8 minute media timeout tied 65-65. Out of the break, Blevins converted a lay-up, Hall drilled a 3-pointer and Blevins hit his lone triple.
ISU junior Brandon Boyd, who led all scorers with 22 points, hit a jumper to halt the 8-0 run, but Frey answered with one of his three 3-pointers, giving MSU a 76-67 lead with 4:10 left.
Frey answered Boyd twice more, then hit a pair of free throws, part of a 6-of-6 performance from the charity stripe over the final 90 seconds that helped Montana State earn its fourth straight win.
“I thought at the end of the day our free throw shooting saved the day,” Fish said. “Harry and Ladan knocked down some big ones.
“I thought the energy was good, but we need to get a little more locked in early. Credit Bill (Evans) and his staff for a good plan, but our guys figured it out as they went, and even though we didn’t do some things we wanted to do, we got a big win.”
Montana State plays at Weber State on Saturday. The Wildcats lost 83-80 to Montana in Ogden on Thursday. MSU and WSU are tied for third in the Big Sky standings with 9-5 conference marks.
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.