(Editor's Note: Montana State Press Release)
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — A 17-0 first-half run gave the Montana State men’s basketball team the cushion it needed, then the Bobcat defense did the rest in a 69-54 win at Northern Arizona University on Saturday.
The Bobcats (10-7, 3-1 Big Sky) held the Lumberjacks (5-12, 1-3 Big Sky) to a mere 54 points on 26.5% shooting on the game, marking the third time MSU has held a Big Sky opponent under 60 points this season. Offensively, Darius Brown II led the way with a season-high 22 points (on 8-for-9 shooting), which helped him eclipse 1,000 collegiate points between his career at Montana State and Cal State Northridge. He also dished out four assists and added three steals.
“Darius has a tremendous feel for basketball — especially on offense,” Montana State head coach Danny Sprinkle told Bobcat Sports Radio Network. “He makes the right passes and makes the game easy for everybody. Passing 1,000 career points is a special achievement for him because of how he plays since he’s a pass-first player. I’m super proud of him. We needed all of his 22 points, four assists and three steals tonight.”
Tyler Patterson chipped in 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting, plus RaeQuan Battle added 14 points, three rebounds and two blocks. Northern Arizona’s Xavier Fuller led all scorers with 23 points while MSU’s defense held Lumberjack leading scorer Jalen Cone to 12 points on ‘m2-for-10 shooting.
“I thought Darius did a good job on Jalen Cone in the first half and Robert Ford III did a great job on him in the second half,” Sprinkle, who moved up to ninth in MSU history with his 66th win as a head coach, said. “We did a pretty good job making Cone guard on the defensive end. We tried to wear him out — he played a lot of minutes [against Montana] on Thursday, so we tried to make him run around. ”
NAU got on the board first as Xavier Fuller made a layup on the opening possession. This would be the Lumberjacks’ last field goal for nearly nine minutes.
The Bobcats rattled off a 17-0 run to take a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. Montana State got looks at the rim early and often, then the team took a double-digit lead off Patterson’s first of five threes. Later, Battle stopped on a dime and rattled in a midrange jumper over two NAU defenders, capping off the run and giving MSU a 17-2 lead less than eight minutes into the game.
Darius Brown II put together a solid first half, getting to the rim at will en route to scoring nine first-half points. His last field goal of the first half came off MSU’s first-half defensive highlight, as Robert Ford III stripped Jalen Cone at midcourt and tapped the ball out to Brown II, who finished an uncontested layup at the other end. Minutes later, Brown turned the corner on a high ball screen, made a left-handed layup through contact and completed a three-point play that pushed the Bobcat lead to 14.
Patterson’s back-to-back threes then gave MSU a 33-13 lead with 6:10 left in the half — a cushion that proved to be invaluable as NAU outscored MSU 8-4 in the final four minutes.
In the second half, Northern Arizona would make a game out of it by chipping away at MSU’s 40-24 lead. The Bobcats missed their first three field goals of the frame while Xavier Fuller and Cone scored the Lumberjacks’ first 10 points in the second half. Patterson’s wide-open corner three snapped the scoring drought and put the Bobcats up 44-31 with 16:53 remaining.
“Tyler started making those threes at crucial times,“ Sprinkle said. “When NAU pulled within eight points, it could’ve been a tie game if Tyler wasn’t making those shots.”
MSU would have to hang on. A jumper from Liam Lloyd whittled down MSU’s lead to just eight points, however, the Bobcats got to the free-throw line to push their lead back to 11. Save for free throws, the Bobcat offense went without a field goal for a 7-minute and 31-second stretch in the second half that allowed NAU to make a comeback.
Yet eight seemed to be the magic number for MSU. The Lumberjacks would pull within eight on two more occasions, yet they wouldn’t get any closer. Leading 60-52 with less than four minutes to go, the Bobcats got a lift thanks to Brown II. The Pasadena, Calif. native knifed through the NAU defense for a layup, then he nailed a three from the right wing that dashed the Lumberjacks’ comeback hopes. On the other end, he stripped Nick Mains with 1:14 to go, which led to another midrange jumper and a 17-point Bobcat lead.
With the 69-54 win, MSU has won eight straight games against the Lumberjacks.
The Bobcats will return home next Thursday, Jan. 12 to host Idaho State at 7 p.m.