BOZEMAN — This wasn’t Tyler Hall’s coming out party. This wasn’t his arrival. News flash: He’s been here all along.
But Montana State’s 78-69 victory over rival Montana — a game in which Hall scored 37 points on 11-of-13 shooting and snapped six 3-pointers — could be seen as the moment his teammates coalesced around him.
Think back to Dec. 5, a nonconference game against Milwaukee in which Hall exploded for a career-high 42. He made 15 of 25 shots, hit six 3s and was similarly unstoppable.
A great performance, no doubt. The rub? The Bobcats lost 83-78. No one else stepped up.
Fast forward to Saturday night. Hall, a sophomore from Rock Island, Illinois, thrilled a sellout crowd of 6,772 at Worthington Arena with what was perhaps the best performance to this point of his career. He couldn’t miss.
He even banked in an off-balance 3-pointer during MSU’s second-half surge, the ultimate sign that everything was going his way. That shot went in at the 8:30 mark, and put the Bobcats ahead by 14 points.
Hall’s 37 points were the third-most for a Bobcat against the Grizzlies in the long history of the rivalry.
“He was fired up,” Griz guard Ahmaad Rorie said. “We had our hands down, and it just takes him a quick second to get a shot off. He was just making his shots.”
But in December, the Bobcats might have lost to the Grizzlies in the same way they faltered against Milwaukee. Instead, Hall’s teammates rose up.
Zach Green scored 12 points, none bigger than his midcourt steal and forceful two-handed dunk midway through the second half, which put MSU ahead 54-43. Green also ripped down 10 rebounds.
Sam Neumann corralled nine rebounds, helping the small-statured Bobcats win the battle of the glass by eight and limit the Grizzlies to just two second-chance points.
Freshman point guard Harald Frey hit his first 3-pointer to snap a 2:20 scoring drought for MSU in the later moments of the second half, which stemmed the tide of an 8-0 run by the Griz.
And Quinton Everett, a senior playing in his final home game, was again a whirling dervish, playing disruptive defense while pulling down six boards of his own. MSU’s defensive play was rejuvenated after a shaky start thanks to the effort of Everett, Devonte Klines and others.
Sure, Hall stole the show, but the other Bobcats were more than just a supporting act. This was team basketball at its finest, which MSU coach Brian Fish noted afterward.
“I thought (Hall’s) teammates really helped him tonight and moved the ball and recognized that he was hot,” Fish said. “You look back at that game when he had (42) earlier in the year I think we got to standing around and didn’t handle it real well.
“Tonight I think the guys were just playing. I just really liked how everybody chipped in and contributed and found a way. He was the benefactor of some of those open looks. You start banking in 3s, it adds up quick then.”
Hall did spark MSU’s surge after halftime. His jumper on the first possession gave the Bobcats a 33-32 lead, and he followed it with a 3-pointer a minute later to build a cushion. Hall scored 24 points in the second half.
In the end, a huge celebration ensued.
“Honestly, I was just being aggressive and attacking,” Hall said. “The rim looked big a times, but really it was just (about) attacking.”
Hall, never one to look at individual statistics or accolades, did reach a major milestone by breaking the school record for single-season points. Hall now has 675 points this year, which surpass the previous record of 667 scored by Tom Domako in 1988.
Hall and the Bobcats have now won nine of their past 11 games, and are sitting pretty in the sprint toward the Big Sky Conference tournament. After Idaho defeated Weber State in overtime on Saturday, MSU is now closing in on securing one of five first-round postseason byes.
But that’s no reason for the Bobcats to slow down. MSU hits the road next week for its final regular-season swing, which will take them to Idaho State on Thursday and to Weber State on Saturday.
“Momentum is a big key,” Hall said. “I don’t really know what’s going on with the other teams. We try not to pay attention to that. We’ve got two games left, and we’re trying to take care of business on the road.”