BOZEMAN, Mont. — Ladan Ricketts saved his best for last.
With Montana State and Northern Arizona tied at 55 with just under two minutes to play, MSU’s senior sharpshooter calmly stepped into a three-pointer and connected on his only basket of the night, giving the Bobcats a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Then in the game’s last five seconds, after NAU’s Ted McCree missed a 3-pointer that would have tied the game, Ricketts skied for a defensive rebound that he called “the cherry on top” and sealed the game with clinching free throws. The Bobcats eventually came away with a 63-61 win over the Lumberjacks on Monday night in front of 3,196 at Worthington Arena.
“I wasn’t making my shots,” said Ricketts who finished with just five points, “and I just shot another one. My teammates and coaches, (senior point guard) Harry (Frey), Coach (Danny) Sprinkle, all of them, have a lot of confidence in me, they keep instilling that in me, and I just kept shooting. I have to thank them for that one.”
Sprinkle, MSU’s first-year head coach, called Ricketts’s contributions “huge, huge plays. His three was gigantic, but not only that, defensively he had two big plays.
“He forced a travel, then he grabbed the rebound and sank the two free throws,” Sprinkle continued after his team moved to 2-0 in Big Sky Conference play, 5-1 at home and 8-5 overall. “But that’s what a senior does. Harald and Ladan carried us that last five minutes. That’s what seniors do, that’s what leadership does. They weren’t going to be denied.”
Ricketts finished 1-for-6 from the floor with two rebounds, but his team maintained a lead for nearly 30 of the 40 minutes with stingy defense and solid rebounding. Sprinkle said Ricketts contributed to that effort.
“He plays hard and for the most part he’s always in the right position,” Sprinkle said of the former junior college transfer who played high school hoops in Livingston about half an hour from Bozeman. “And one thing I don’t think he gets enough credit for his he’s a good rebounder. He’s 6-foot-5 and pretty long, he’s not the most athletic guy but he’ll go in there and battle and he’ll rebound.”
The Bobcats out-rebounded Northern Arizona 35 to 32. Jubrile Belo led all players with nine boards, while Amin Adamu added seven.
Frey scored 18 points to lead all players, while Belo added 17. Frey knocked down three shots from beyond the arc (in six attempts) on a night MSU shot just 4-of-17 from deep. NAU’s Bernie Andre scored 17 points to lead the Lumberjacks, while Cameron Satterwhite added a dozen. Cameron Shelton grabbed eight rebounds to pace the visitors.
The teams played on even terms throughout the first half, with Zeke Quinlan’s layup in the last seconds giving the Bobcats a 30-28 advantage at the intermission. The game featured 10 lead changes and eight ties, but the Cats led for the first 16:51 of the second half. Frey’s triple at 14:08 gave MSU a 10-point lead, its largest of the night. But NAU used an 8-0 run beginning with Andre’s short jumper at the 4:57 mark, eventually tying the game with a 3-pointer by Luke Avdalovic with 3:09 to play.
Ricketts’ 3-pointer ended the run and gave the Bobcats a 58-55 lead. Belo made one of two free throws to push the lead to four, but Andre’s triple chopped MSU’s edge down to 59-58 with 50 seconds remaining.
With 30 seconds to play, Belo was fouled in the low post and made both of his free throws. He finished the night 9-for-10 from the line and the Cats had a three-point advantage. McCree’s miss led to Ricketts’ rebound and free throw, and the Bobcats nailed down a 2-0 start to Big Sky play.
Montana State shot 41.5% from the floor, 23.5% from the arc, on the evening, but held NAU to 40% shooting, 28.6% from 3-point range. MSU, it can be fairly said, won the game at the line. The Cats sank 25 of their 28 free throws, while NAU was 5-for-10 from the line.
MSU raised its record to 8-5 on the season, 2-0 in Big Sky play, while the Lumberjacks are now 6-5 overall, 0-2 in the league. Sprinkle gave much of the credit to his seniors.
“No matter how many shots Ladan missed I knew he was making that last shot,” Sprinkle said. “I told him in the locker room that if anyone’s going to make that shot it’s you, and it’s Harald. The two seniors, if I have to put money on guys making a three, those two guys right there, I’ll take them over anyone in the country.”
Montana State returns to action in 2020 on Thursday when the Bobcats take on Northern Colorado in Greeley. The Bears lost their Big Sky opener 69-65 at Portland State on Saturday but did not play Monday. UNC is 7-5 overall.
This press release written by Andrew Pedersen, Montana State sports information. Colter Nuanez contributed to the writing of this recap.