MISSOULA — Montana State’s Tyler Hall has scored at least 21 points in a game 43 times in his 91 career games with the Cats.
He tallied 21 points against the Montana Grizzlies this season — but he needed two games to reach that total.
Perhaps nothing more sums up Hall’s inefficiency against Montana this season than the fact that he has the same number of made field goals and turnovers in the two games. He turned the ball over five times, made 5 of 25 shots and was 2 of 12 on 3-pointers in 63 minutes.
“I didn’t try to help anybody,” Hall said after Saturday’s game. “I didn’t try to get guys together and push through it. I got to do that more. It’s kind of been like that all season.
"That was the toughest part, just staying together and knowing there’s going to be adversity in the game. I backed up when adversity hit.”
Named the Big Sky preseason MVP, Hall has struggled offensively this season, posting career lows in field-goal percentage (40.9), 3-point field-goal percentage (36.7) and points per game (18.1). The Cats have hit a lull right alongside him, and they dropped to 13-16 overall and 6-10 in league play.
The Griz got to Hall again on Saturday by hedging ball screens and guarding him with traps. The 6-foot-5 guard said he wasn’t strong and physical enough against that aggressive defense.
He turned the ball over four times, and teammates Harald Frey and Devonte Klines committed three and five turnovers, respectively. The Cats finished with 16 turnovers to just eight assists.
His 21 points in two games was a far cry from last season, when he scored 37 points against the Griz in one game. He was 11 of 13 from the field and 6 of 8 on 3-pointers that game, banking in long-range shots.
Since last year, the Griz have switched from playing a pack-line defense to playing an aggressive style that allows players to know where their help is coming from on rotations and aims to create turnovers. Montana head coach Travis DeCuire said the new defensive system has been partly responsible for flustering and shutting down Hall.
“Right now, I have a more defensive-minded group,” DeCuire said. “We’re more athletic, we’re longer, we’re quicker and we’re more aggressive and we can recover more than we could in the past. Those shots that are uncontested a year ago are no longer uncontested now. Some of it is personnel and some of it is our scheme.”
When the Griz and Cats played in Bozeman, it was a heavy dose of lengthy 6-7 Bobby Moorehead and a pinch of high-energy Timmy Falls that limited Hall to 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting. Although Hall was dealing with an illness, Cats head coach Brian Fish had said he didn’t think that affected Hall’s play.
Saturday, it was Moorehead and his wingspan who again drew the primary assignment on Hall. When he got in foul trouble, veteran guard Ahmaad Rorie took over defensive duties.
They limited Hall to 2 of 16 from the field and 1 of 6 on 3-pointers. His lone basket from beyond the arc came in the final minute when Montana emptied its bench.
“It was more about keeping him out of the flow and forcing him to score playing one on one,” DeCuire said. “… We just made it hard for him to catch and shoot or get shots off of the screens. We made him work, and when he put it on the floor, we drove him into help.
"When guys have to shoot in traffic or take the types of shots that aren’t necessarily the highest-percentage shots for them, they’re going to struggle.”
Unlike the first meeting, Hall managed assists and steals, getting two of each, but they had no bearing on the outcome of the game. He had four rebounds Saturday, up from three in the January contest.
Griz fight through foul trouble
With the Griz leading by at least 20 points throughout the majority of the second half, the officials became the focus of attention and ridicule from the home crowd.
Freshman Timmy Falls picked up his third foul with 13:15 left in the game when he tried to draw a charge on a Joe Mvuezolo layup. That fast break had started when Rorie got clobbered on a layup attempt that didn’t draw a foul call; he stayed on the ground for nearly a minute before he limped back to the bench.
Falls was called for his fourth foul less than five minutes later. He apparently protested the call as he walked back to the bench and was called for a technical, his fifth foul.
Fifty seconds later, Akoh fouled out with 8:04 left when Harald Frey stepped on Akoh’s foot, slipped and fell. The Griz big man was still called for the foul and ran down the court in disbelief.
On the next possession, the Griz bench was whistled for a technical, with the ref pointing at Akoh, as they apparently continued to protest the foul call.
“You need to learn from that,” DeCuire said. “That’s an adverse situation and things don’t always go your way, and you got to find a way to work around it.
“It’s OK to be emotional and get caught up in the game, but at the same time, you got to watch your p’s and q’s with the officials. You can’t get techs because if that’s a three-point game, that could have cost us the game.”
Akoh played 16 minutes, and Falls played 20. Without them, Sayeed Pridgett scored 14 second-half points, Rorie added 11 and Karl Nicholas chipped in nine.