(Editor's Note: Montana State Press Release)
BOZEMAN — A go-ahead three-pointer from Eastern Washington guard Steele Venters with 19 seconds left handed the Montana State men’s basketball team its first home loss of the year in a 70-67 contest on New Year’s Eve.
The Bobcats (8-7, 1-1 Big Sky) had several opportunities to win late in the game. Montana State would pull within two off a cross-court inbound pass from Caleb Fuller to RaeQuan Battle, then the Eagles (8-7, 2-0 Big Sky) left the door open by splitting a pair of free throws with 6.1 seconds left. But Robert Ford III’s long, game-tying three-point attempt was off the mark at the buzzer.
“We still gave ourselves a chance to win the game,” Montana State head coach Danny Sprinkle told Bobcat Sports Radio Network. “When Venters made that big shot, we were in our 1-3-1 and matching up, but we were a split-second too slow rotating and he made a big play.”
Eastern Washington out-rebounded MSU by a 40-29 margin, plus it had 18 second-chance points to the Bobcats’ nine. Despite turning the ball over 18 times, the Eagles offset their mistakes by connecting on 45.5% of their threes in the second half, three of which came in the final five minutes.
“We got out-toughed, which is terrible to say — especially at home,” Sprinkle said. “We got beat at our own game. Eastern Washington probably hit four of their made threes off offensive rebounds. They had 18 second-chance points, which was the difference in the game.”
After trailing at halftime, Montana State got back into the game thanks to an 18-point, 11-rebound double-double from redshirt junior guard Darius Brown II. The CSUN transfer scored 12 of his team-best 18 points in the second half, most of which were off big three-pointers that helped kickstart the Bobcat offense. Brown II’s 18 points were a season-best; the double-double was the third of his career.
“Darius kept us in the game,” Sprinkle said. “When we were stagnant offensively, he bailed us out with late threes. That’s the type of player he is. I’m proud of him for fighting, competing and for him leading us with 11 rebounds.”
The Bobcat defense held its ground early, forcing two quick EWU turnovers in the first two minutes and holding the Eagles without a field goal until the 15:10 mark. Moments later, offsetting technical fouls from RaeQuan Battle and Ethan Price led to a bevy of free throws that helped EWU pull within two, 8-6.
Tyler Patterson sparked the MSU offense for the second-straight game. His first three put MSU ahead 13-11 with 12:08 to go, yet the Eagles would tie the game on a pair of Tyreese Davis free throws on the next possession. A three from Davis with 10:15 left in the first half would give EWU a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. The Eagles led by as many as nine points in the second half, but the Bobcats pulled within one off a midrange jumper from Darius Brown II — his first of the night.
Late in the first half, the Bobcats used a pair of transition opportunities late to trim the deficit to five. Great Osobor stripped Dane Erikstrup, setting up a reverse layup from Caleb Fuller. Lecholat erased an Angelo Allegri layup, which Brown II gathered before scoring in transition on the other end. For the first time at home all season, MSU went into halftime trailing the Eagles, 33-28.
Needing a spark in the second half, Caleb Fuller delivered for the Bobcats. The senior forward sank threes on back-to-back possessions, which gave MSU a 36-35 lead with 18:30 to play.
“Caleb got the energy going in the building,” Sprinkle said. “That’s what we need from him: We need him to take good shots for us. He’s going to get those open looks if we keep moving the ball.”
As the game see-sawed over the next few possessions, neither team led by more than four points. Then Brown II took over.
Brown II stepped into an easy three to put MSU up 42-41, then RaeQuan Battle took over with four-straight points. Patrick McMahon corralled an offensive rebound off a missed MSU free throw, then found Brown II for another three, giving MSU a 48-43 lead with 11:20 to play. But the Bobcats would go nearly four minutes without a field goal as EWU reclaimed the lead off consecutive threes from Allegri.
With less than six minutes to play, Brown II answered the call again. A deep three from the redshirt junior point guard gave MSU a 58-55 lead, then another three from Brown II put the Bobcats up four with 4:54 to go. Moments later, Brown II corralled a Cedric Coward miss and heaved a full-court pass to Jubrile Belo, who was all alone on the other end of the court for a rim-rattling dunk. This appeared to give momentum back to the Bobcats, who had a 65-63 lead with 2:15 left and the crowd on their side.
Yet Venters came alive with five-straight points — including the go-ahead three with 19 seconds left that would eventually be the difference.
Battle added 13 points and eclipsed 700 career points in the game, plus Fuller added 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting and four rebounds. Belo finished with eight points on 4-for-5 shooting and Sam Lecholat added seven points off the bench.
Angelo Allegri led the Eagles with 19 points on 8-for-15 shooting, plus nine rebounds. Venters was close behind with 17 points, plus Casey Jones chipped in two points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
Following this game, Montana State takes its first conference road trip to Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona next Thursday and Saturday, respectively. All Big Sky Conference games will be streamed on ESPN+.
Going into Saturday’s game, the Bobcats carried a 14-game home winning streak and hadn’t lost a home game in 2022. MSU will look to start a new streak on Jan. 12 against Idaho State.