Big Sky favorite Montana State upends North Dakota
GRAND FORKS – Montana State won the Big Sky Conference men’s basketball title last season. And the Bobcats are predicted to win the league again this season, based on their returning experience.
And experienced teams know what to do on the road – keep the home team at arm's length.
Montana State perfectly executed that plan Sunday, downing UND 81-71 at The Betty before 1,225 fans.
“We made some critical shots to just keep them at arm’s length,” said Montana State coach Danny Sprinkle. “And they missed some shots they usually make, which is going to happen.”
The Bobcats didn’t mount a big run – 8 points was their biggest – but relied on making timely shots and relying on their inside-outside game that UND couldn’t handle.
Raequan Battle dominated the perimeter (30 points) while Jubrile Belo was dominant on the inside (16 points, 10 rebounds).
“Obviously, that’s a team that’s going to contend for the Big Sky title,” said UND coach Paul Sather. “But this is a game our guys can learn from. There is so much we can get from this game, to grow and get better. That’s a team that is polished and we’re not, so we need to toughen up and get better.”
UND dropped to 2-3. As expected, so far it’s been an up-and-down start for the youthful Hawks. They’ve won twice on the road, winning at Incarnate Word and Elon, which dropped an 11-point game to North Carolina State.
“There’s no question we’ve had some progress,” said Sather. “Getting two road wins has been great for us. We played pretty well at times today. But we talked about having toughness. We had to play 40 minutes and we had to be tougher.”
UND placed three players in double figures – Mitchell Sueker (18), B.J. Omot (14) and Treysen Eaglestaff (10). Omot and Eaglestaff are true freshmen.
“I felt we could have come out and been a little more aggressive,” said Omot. “We weren’t as aggressive in the first half as we were in the second. We really haven’t figured each other out yet. But it’s only the beginning of the season. We’ll learn from it and I still think we’re going to be a pretty good team.”
UND will host Wisconsin-Stout, a Division III team, on Tuesday.
Stout is 2-3 but had a wild 147-126 win over Greenville this season, a game in which Brody Fox scored 70 points. He’s the younger brother of Parker Fox, who played for Sather at Northern State, before transferring to Minnesota.