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Montana State men win again, pull away in second half against Portland State

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Posted at 11:19 PM, Jan 26, 2023

(Editor's Note: Montana State Press Release)

PORTLAND, Ore. — Playing without two of its team leaders, the Montana State men’s basketball team pulled away in the second half to beat Portland State 75-66 on Thursday night.

With Darius Brown II in foul trouble and Jubrile Belo sitting out most of the second half, RaeQuan Battle (19 points), Great Osobor (17 points, 10 rebounds) and Caleb Fuller (18 points) helped lift the Bobcats (14-8, 7-2 Big Sky Conference) past the Vikings (9-12, 3-5 Big Sky Conference). Portland State kept things interesting with 19 second-half points from former Montana point guard Cameron Parker, yet the Vikings failed to capitalize on empty MSU possessions by going 9-for-15 from the charity stripe in the second half.

“Portland State is a hard team to play,” Montana State Head Coach Danny Sprinkle told Bobcat Sports Radio Network. “They play so hard and it’s chaos. You have to be skilled and disciplined, and that’s what our guys were tonight.”

The Bobcats’ 75 points were the team’s second-most in conference play so far, while the defense held Portland State to 66 points — exactly at the team’s season average. MSU also won the battle of the boards by a 36-30 margin despite playing without Belo for the entire second half, plus the team out-shot Portland State 47.3% to 41.7%.

Jubrile Belo chipped in the first three points for the Bobcats, then RaeQuan Battle fired a skip pass to Caleb Fuller, who was open in the corner for three. Fuller would end up putting together his best game in a Bobcat uniform, scoring 11 points in the first half en route to a season-high 17-point showing. The UC Davis transfer blew past the defense for a dunk on the next possession, then the game see-sawed for the bulk of the first half.

“Caleb Fuller was awesome tonight,” Sprinkle, who picked up his 70th head coaching win on Thursday night said. “I thought him and Great Osobor did a tremendous job.”

Although Portland State got on the board with at the 18:34 mark, the Vikings led by as many as six points with 5:25 remaining in the first half. Fuller answered the call with four-straight points, then Belo and Osobor scored MSU’s final seven points of the half — including a strip-and-score from Robert Ford III that wound up with an Osobor dunk with 41 seconds in the half.

Despite leading 36-34 at half, Montana State had Brown II in foul trouble and Belo nursing a hand injury sustained in the first half. Thus, the stage was set for MSU’s bench to rise up to the challenge of putting the Vikings away. Tyler Patterson nailed a three to kick off the scoring, then Brown II broke free for a layup to put the visitors up seven early in the second half. Parker was then prompted to put the Vikings on his back to the tune of five points in an 8-3 Portland State run.

Like they did in the first half, Fuller and Osobor carried the weight early in the second half as they tried countering Parker’s sudden outburst. The game nearly got out of hand when Sam Lecholat’s charge drew the ire of not only the Portland State coaching staff, but the home crowd. Tensions nearly peaked, but jumpers from Parker alleviated the home crowd as the Vikings made things interesting down the stretch.

Then the MSU offense went cold. The Bobcats went 0-for-4 until a finger roll from Fuller snapped the scoring drought. While MSU couldn’t string together productive possessions, the Vikings couldn’t take advantage; Portland State managed three free throws and a string of empty possessions before the final media timeout.

Although the door was open for the Vikings, Battle slammed it shut. He received an easy pass off an inbounds play that led to a dunk, then he stepped into a three with 2:55 to go, giving MSU its largest lead of the night at 66-59.

“We started getting some stops and hitting some shots,” Sprinkle said. “I didn’t have any problem with the shots we were taking because it was only a matter of time before we got two or three in a row.”

In a strikingly similar play like he did during the waning seconds of last Saturday’s game against Montana, Battle curled around a screen and got fouled on a three before calmly sinking all three free throws. With a 71-59 advantage and 1:36 to play, the game was basically all wrapped up. Ford III and Fuller chipped in four free throws down the stretch to close the book on a 75-66 win.

Parker led the way for the Vikings with 23 points, which were a season high. Hunter Woods — a high school rival of Darius Brown II from their days playing in Pasadena, Calif. — was the only other Viking in double-figures with 11 points.

The Bobcats sit firmly in second place in the Big Sky standings with a 7-2 record, but they have an opportunity to gap the rest of the field with a road trip against third-place Sacramento State this Saturday at 8 p.m. MT. Like all Big Sky Conference games, Saturday’s road game at The Nest will be streamed on ESPN+.