SAN DIEGO - All season long Montana State’s motto has been “take the next step” — from winning the Big Sky regular-season title, the conference tournament, and now a chance to dance at March Madness.
During Thursday’s pressers, players reiterated that it was surreal being in San Diego for the first round, but that they’re dialed in and ready for No. 3 Texas Tech.
"It’s definitely been easy getting back into the swing of things, going through another detailed scout, and getting ready for Texas Tech, which is a good opponent," senior point guard Xavier Bishop explained. "We’ve been grinding getting back to work, working on things, and trying to figure out ways to attack them.”
It’s a cliche saying in sports, but one that’s true when it comes to March Madness - defense wins championships – and Texas Tech arguably has one of the best in college basketball.
"They play with an enormous amount of grit and toughness," head coach Danny Sprinkle stated. "We’ll have to be able to match that tomorrow.”
Finishing the regular season 25-9, the Red Raiders have played one of the most difficult schedules on paper, including Gonzaga.
However, for even the highest-scoring offense in all of college basketball, nearly 88 points per game for Gonzaga, the Red Raiders held them to a mere 69 – one of their lowest scoring performances all season.
"They pretty much rely on their defense to win games," junior forward Jubrile Belo said. "We’ve just been making sure that we know that we have to expect to pass and where our next pass is going to go. We need to know, take care of the ball, and rebound. By doing certain things we will be able to eliminate the pressures of that defense."
But to the luck of Montana State, the Bobcats have unintentionally been studying Texas Tech’s defense since mid-January.
“About six weeks ago I wasn’t very happy with our defense," Sprinkle laughed. "I thought we were getting pretty selfish, so I clipped up about 25 clips of Texas Tech’s defense, and I showed it to my players. I was like, this is how hard I want you to play. This is what we have to look like defensively.”
However, the Red Raider's offense is not to be overlooked.
During conference play, Bryson Williams was the ring leader for Texas Tech averaging just over 16 points per game, but the most insane stat – a field goal percentage of 54-percent.
“They’re an experienced team," senior forward Abdul Mohamed said. "We know that, but also were an experienced group of guys. It’s going to be our experience versus their experience.”
I want to come out and be aggressive and compete and let the chips fall where they may at the end," Sprinkle added. "But for that 40 minutes, we don’t have to be better than Texas Tech for the season. We just have to be better for 40 minutes, and tomorrow at 10:45 a.m. (PT), that 40 minutes is all that matters.”
Friday's game against No. 3 Texas Tech tips off at 11:45 a.m. MT on TNT.