BOZEMAN — (Editor's Note: Montana State Press Release)
BOZEMAN— Montana State used a strong defensive effort and made timely plays late in a 69-65 victory over Eastern Washington on Thursday, Jan. 27, in Big Sky Conference men's basketball in Worthington Arena. The win for the Bobcats ended a six-game skid against the Eagles and was just MSU's third victory in their last 18 contests versus EWU.
Both teams had big scoring runs during the first half. Eastern Washington, after MSU's Jubrile Belo hit a free throw, scored 10 consecutive points to jump out to a 10-1 advantage. The Bobcats came right back with a 19-point run of their own over a 6 minute, 23-second span to go ahead 20-10. The Eags fought their way back into single digits and the two sides went to halftime with a one-point difference as MSU led 26-25 after 20 minutes.
The Eags shot just 29% from the field in the first half, but hit seven 3-pointers to stay in striking distance. MSU also turned the ball over 11 times compared to EWU's 5 lost possessions.
"I challenged the guys at halftime because I wasn't happy with our first half effort," Montana State head coach Danny Sprinkle said. "Our defensive breakdowns, how sloppy we were with the basketball, I hold our leaders our accountable for that. They corrected it."
The Eagles re-gained the lead, 43-41, with 11:15 remaining on a Steele Venters layup. Belo made two free throws on the other end, and following an offensive foul call on EWU, MSU's Xavier Bishop connected on a 3-pointer. The Bobcats wouldn't trail again.
Montana State went up by as many as six in the final minutes of the second half and continuously fended off an Eastern Washington comeback bid en route to the win.
The victory was the sixth straight for MSU as the Bobcats improved to 15-5 overall and 7-2 in Big Sky play. The Eagles dropped to 11-9 (5-4 BSC).
"I thought we got stops when we needed to," Sprinkle said. "We pounded the paint with the drive, got to the free throw line which helped us, even though we missed a few down the stretch. We were aggressive, even when we missed shots, we just kept going after it."
Montana State finished the night outshooting Eastern Washington 38.5-32.7%. The Eags' mark from the field was their lowest percentage in a Big Sky game this season while EWU came into the contest averaging 78 points.
The Bobcats also outrebounded EWU 53-30. The 53 boards for MSU were the most in a Big Sky game for the program since 2017. MSU held Venters, who averages 18 points per game to a season-low six points (2-13 FG).
"I thought we did a really good job of chesting up at the rim and making it tough on them," Sprinkle said. "They got a couple layups, but I thought we did a good job of forcing them to score over us. They missed some shots that they usually don't, but I think a lot of that was our physicality and staying between them and the basket."
The Bobcats had four double-digit scorers in Bishop (15), Belo (15), RaeQuan Battle (15) and Amin Adamu (12). Bishop, who scored all 15 of his points in the second half, hit a team-high four 3-pointers in his third consecutive game leading the team in scoring.
"I mean we'd have three less wins, he's been that good," Sprinkle said of Bishop's play of late. "He was tremendous in the second half. His four 3's and the times he hit them, the game was either tied or down one or up one, it was huge."
Belo registered his fourth double-double of the season as he added 10 rebounds and two blocks to his stat line. Battle made 5 of 10 shots he attempted and Abdul Mohamed had a team-high 12 rebounds and four assists. Adamu, making his first appearance after missing two games, played 29 minutes and had six rebounds. He also served as a main defender on EWU's Rylan Bergersen who went 2 of 12 from the field after coming into the game averaging nearly 14 points per game.
"Amin competed hard," Sprinkle said of Adamu. "He did a really good job of guarding Bergersen who's a terrific player. He did well chesting up because Rylan is a big kid. He was definitely tired, he just got back on Tuesday so we knew he would be, but he gutted it out."
Linton Acliese led the Eagles scoring 22 points and recording 10 rebounds. Angelo Allegri scored 17 points and had seven rebounds.
Montana State returns to Worthington Arena Saturday to take on Idaho at 4 p.m. Saturday's game is MSU/Faculty Staff Appreciation in which MSU personnel can receive a free ticket to the matchup and purchase an additional ticket for $5.