Courtesy: Montana State Sports Information
It had been a while coming.
"That was my first field goal in conference play," Montana State's sophomore center Sam Neumann said after helping lead his team to a 68-53 win over Northern Colorado in Worthington Arena on Saturday afternoon. "It felt good to get off the schneid."
Neumann could have applied his closing comment to the Bobcat team as a whole. The Cats snapped a three-game losing streak with offensive balance and the team's best defensive game statistically of the season. MSU's 21 turnovers forced and 53 points allowed each stand as season's bests, and UNC's 34.6% shooting was the second-lowest by a 2016-17 opponent.
"I thought we played really good defense," said MSU head coach Brian Fish. "We were up the space where it didn't allow shooters to get comfortable, we forced some turnovers, which meant we didn't have to operate against a set defense every time. Overall I thought it was a good effort."
The Cats complemented the defensive effort with offensive balance. Three players scored in double-digits, led by Harald' Frey's 19 points. Tyler Hall added 13 while playing with flu-like symptoms.
Much of the afternoon's spark, though, came from Neumann. After beginning the Big Sky season with 0-for-11 shooting over the first five games, h made four baskets – on six attempts – Saturday. One was a three-pointer, which he hadn't hit in nearly a month, and he also made all three of his free throws. Neumann grabbed five boards and dished out a pair of assists in 23 minutes of playing time.
"I thought Sam played really well," Fish said. "He gave us some energy and drew a couple charges."
After a ragged beginning, Frey's three-pointer almost a minute in gave the Bobcats a lead they'd hold for 38:49 of the game. MSU pushed the lead to double-digits on Hall's jumper with 2:27 remaining in the first half, part of a 9-1 lead to close the first period.
Zach Green's dunk opened the second half, and before two minutes had elapsed he had added two three-pointers. A pair of Neumann free throws gave the Bobcats a 43-28 cushion with 17:30 to play, and MSU maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the day.
The victory boosts Montana State's record to 7-12 obn the season, 2-4 in Big Sky play. Northern Colorado is 7-10, 3-3. MSU visits Sacramento State on Thursday for an 8 pm MT tipoff.