BOZEMAN — It was a quintessential “Tyler Hall night” Thursday at Worthington Arena. Montana State’s sharpshooting junior guard hit seven 3-pointers and scored 28 points in a 76-64 Big Sky Conference victory over Northern Colorado.
As Hall got hot early, you could sense it was the start of another deluge.
“We’ve seen it all before plenty of times,” Bobcats forward Sam Neumann said. “We know what’s coming when he gets a few down, and everybody gets excited about it.”
But this wasn’t “hero ball,” as MSU coach Brian Fish calls it. In order for the Bobcats to run their league record to 3-0 for the first time in four years, it took a concerted rebounding effort and functional defense against a tough opponent renowned for exceptional guard play.
In the past, Hall might have had to score 30-plus for the Bobcats to survive. But Fish praised his team’s ability to finish off UNC in a workmanlike manner.
“Previously when we closed out a game we had to make shots. Tonight we closed it out with defense and we rebounded,” Fish said. “It was a veteran close-out game.
“We’ve won games in the past because we’ve got some guys that can really shoot it, but we closed it out doing grunt-work stuff today, and that’s who you’ve got to be if you want to be a good team.”
Case in point: The Bobcats got defensive stops on eight of UNC’s last possessions and didn’t succumb to the enormous scoring potential of guards Andre Spight and Jordan Davis. To that end, Montana State’s lead swelled from four points to 12 within the final nine minutes.
Still, Hall rose up during one of the game’s most crucial sequences by executing a four-point play — hitting a long 3-pointer from the wing and making a subsequent free throw after being fouled — to give MSU a 64-56 advantage with 9:31 left.
Harald Frey added a deep 3 of his own, made possible by an offensive rebound by Sam Neumann, less than a minute later.
It came down to the rebounding effort. MSU outmuscled the Bears on the glass and won that battle by a 44-28 margin, which included 10 offensive boards and 10 second-chance points.
Hall and Neumann each had eight rebounds, while Zach Green snared seven off the bench. Keljin Blevins pulled down six boards to go with his 11 points.
“Those extra rebounds, they bring a lot of energy,” Neumann said. “You saw the bench was going crazy after a couple big rebounds. It gets everybody into it, and it helps us offensively and defensively with that energy.”
“When you rebound and win that war by 16 it limits the amount of shots they get. They got more shots than us (62 to 55), but I just thought we took them out of their rhythm by dominating the boards,” Fish said.
Hall was hounded all night by UNC guard Jonah Radebaugh, the Big Sky’s reigning defensive player of the year. But Hall was in a zone from the start. He made 9 of 19 from the floor, including 7 of 13 from 3-point range.
It came on the heels of a topsy-turvy road trip through Southern Utah and Northern Arizona last week. In a win over SUU, Hall scored 36 points and made eight 3s. In beating NAU, he finished with 16 points and made only 1 of 12 from the arc.
Hall, healthy again after spending most of December nursing a right ankle injury, said he expected a good fight from UNC’s Radebaugh, and he rose to the occasion.
“He gets a hand on the ball real well. He knows a lot of moves and he doesn’t go for a lot of fakes. He’s a tough defender,” Hall said. “Coach told me that he’d probably be pushing up on me and I expected it. I just took it as a challenge.”
Fish said Hall “did a better job of moving without the ball that he’s done. You can see his health is good and he’s moving better. I thought we did a good job of finding him and getting him the ball.”
The Bobcats are 3-0 in the Big Sky for the first time since the 2013-14 season. They’ll look to keep it going Saturday when defending conference champion North Dakota comes calling.
The Fighting Hawks lost 109-79 on Thursday at Montana.
NOTES: Spight and Davis comined for 31 points but shot 12 for 32 collectively from the floor. ... The Bobcats won despite turning the ball over 18 times. ... The attendance was 2,542.