Bobcat men fall in tourney

Northern Colorado got hot at the right time, and Montana State went cold. In the end, that was the difference in the Bears’ 69-56 win in the quarterfinal round of the 2013 Big Sky Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament in Missoula on Thursday. UNC shot 59 percent after halftime, while the Bobcats eventually couldn’t find solutions.

“We just didn’t answer with buckets in the second half the way you need to against a quality offensive team,” Bobcat coach Brad Huse said after his team’s quarterfinal round exit out of the Big Sky Conference Tournament. “We got some pretty good looks at the basket, we just couldn’t convert.”

The Bobcats trailed only 52-48 after Christian Moon’s layup with 8:06 to play. But Derrick Barden hit an unlikely three-pointer – only his 17th of the season – to key a 15-3 that effectively sent the Bobcats into the off-season. As was the case in UNC’s earlier win in Bozeman, Tate Unruh led the Bears with 21 points, draining three three-pointers and all six of his free throws.

Free throws, as it turned out, played an enormous role in the game. MSU played aggressive basketball, attacking the basket throughout the night and pushing tempo when the opportunity presented itself, and while Northern Colorado also attacked the paint the Bears were rewarded with 28 free throws on 19 Bobcat fouls. Northern Colorado was whistled for only nine fouls in the entire game, and MSU shot only 14 free throws. Incredibly, Montana State never reached the bonus in either half.

The Bobcats were hit hard by the fouls early. Flavien Davis and Antonio Biglow each picked up their second fouls less than 12 minutes into the game. “We had some key guys not really get into the flow because of foul trouble,” Huse said. “That’s tough on your rotation, and when you have guys that have to sit with fouls it’s sometimes hard to get them back in rhythm.”

In spite of the early foul trouble, Montana State used solid defense and timely shooting to carry a 30-28 lead into the intermission. MSU shot 45.8% in the first half, limiting the Bears to 41.7% shooting. Each team committed a half-dozen turnovers in the first period, but the Bears scored 12 points in the paint while limiting MSU, through extremely physical defense, to just four. UNC stayed in the game by converting four of its five second chance opportunities into eight points.

Much of Northern Colorado’s second-half success came in attacking MSU’s triangle-and-two defense, which Huse said the Bobcats played out of necessity. “We really switch defenses a lot,” he said. “It seems like they got the baseline a lot when we were in out triangle-and-two, and we didn’t make our rotations.” That allowed UNC to shoot 58.8% after halftime, while also knocking down 17 of its 19 free throw attempts. On the evening, the Bears shot 48.8% from the floor, 82.1 percent from the line.

While the season’s end may be too near for perspective, Huse lauded his team. “These guys fought hard all season,” he said. “They fought through adversity and never gave up. It hurts to lose a guy like Christian Moon, who is a heck of a player and an even better person, to know that you won’t get to be around him every day and interact regularly. But we’ve built a good foundation. I like the people we have coming back.”

As the season ends, Moon departs as MSU’s only active senior. The Bobcats finished without the services of his classmate Xavier Blount, whose career ended early with a foot injury. Juniors Davis, Egwounwu, Biglow, Calen Coleman and Jeff Budinich step forward as next season’s senior class, with rising juniors Michael Dison, Eric Norman and Blake Brumwell joining and sophomores-to-be Marcus Colbert and Danny Robison as building blocks for 2013-14.

Montana State finishes the season 13-17, and its 10-10 league record landed it fourth in the Big Sky standings.

— MSU Sports Information