Bobcat ‘D’ brings down league leaders

BOZEMAN — Brad Huse had a feeling his Montana State team would get a boost at some point during what turned out to be an exhilarating 70-55 win over Northern Colorado in Bozeman on Thursday. He just didn’t know from where.

UNC-MSU stats

As has been the case so often in recent weeks, it came from right next to him.

MSU’s bench contributed 28 points, eight rebounds and five assists as the Bobcats topped the league-leading Bears. “For us it’s a collective effort to get where we want to get to,” Huse said. “Tonight our depth was really good.”

With the Bobcats clinging to a one-point lead early in the second half, a pair of reserve forwards energized the home team and its crowd. Eric Norman hit a layup to stretch the lead to 29-26 with 17:37 to play, and two-and-a-half minutes later Danny Robison hit two layups in three possessions to push the Bobcat lead to 38-28 with 13:24 to play. Northern Colorado never got closer than eight the rest of the way.

“I thought (Robison and Norman) were crisp with how they were executing what we were doing,” Huse said, citing Norman’s three-point threat as a factor in diversifying MSU’s offense. “It did spread us out a little bit, it got us flowing, and it got the ball moving well. I thought those guys did a good job in their roles tonight.”

Montana State’s starters certainly carried their share of the load. Michael Dison scored a dozen points, including seven of MSU’s 13 points in the first six-and-a-half minutes of the second half when the Bobcats stretched their lead. He, Robison and Norman were the only Bobcats to score until Marcus Colbert’s jumper with 13:03 to play, which pushed the MSU lead to 40-28.

The Bobcats’ offensive rhythm at the outset of the second half came in sharp contrast to a gritty, defensive-oriented first 20 minutes. Neither team shot as high as 40% in the opening stanza.

MSU was able to do its important work in a couple of familiar areas. First, the team kept Northern Colorado, the Big Sky’s top offensive rebounding team in terms of opportunities converted, from tracking down its own misses. UNC collected only four offensive boards, and turned them into just four points.

“That was a focal point for us,” said MSU center Paul Egwuonwu, who grabbed four boards but did yeoman’s work in keeping the Bears off the glass.

A second point of emphasis, one that has become a team strength, was taking care of the basketball. The Bobcats committed only five turnovers while forcing 11, and that translated to a 14-to-2 advantage in second chance points.

“That’s a big key against that team,” Huse said, “they’re such a great rebounding team, they’re so physical. When you go back and look you feel good that they didn’t get a ton of offensive rebounds.”

Egwuonwu led the Cats with 13 points, while Dison added 12 points and a team-high seven rebounds. Colbert dished out five assists, while Antonio Biglow added four. UNC’s Tate Unruh led all players with 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting, while Tim Huskisson’s 6-for-7 shooting night translated into 14 points and a game-high eight rebounds.

The win levels MSU and UNC in the conference standings at 4-1. The Bobcats host North Dakota Saturday at 7 pm in Worthington Arena, while Northern Colorado visits Montana.

— MSU Sports Information