BOZEMAN — Brian Fish said Keljin Blevins “saved” Montana State in a 76-73 overtime victory last Saturday at Northern Arizona.
To be sure, the Bobcats needed every bit of Blevins’ 26-point, six-rebound performance to complete a key conference-opening road sweep as primary scorers Tyler Hall and Harald Frey fought through shooting woes.
But Fish, MSU’s fourth-year coach, also knows Blevins’ scoring outburst was only a continuation of his increasingly steady play over the course of the past two weeks.
Blevins, a 6-foot-6, 200-pound transfer forward from Southern Miss, is clearly coming into his own as a force on a Montana State team (9-6, 2-0) that has designs on taking the next step as a Big Sky contender.
“It’s been a kind of progression that’s gone in our favor,” Fish said. “He’s really getting some ‘man’ rebounds out there and focusing on defense, and that’s been a big improvement as each game’s gone along. Now, the points jumped up a little bit (against NAU), but it’s been about a three- or four-game run here.”
Blevins had 13 points and seven rebounds in a home win over Denver on Dec. 18, then produced a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) in a loss at Omaha on Dec. 21. His per-game totals in last week’s league victories at Southern Utah and NAU were solid: 16.5 points, 7.5 rebounds while shooting 61 percent from the floor.
Blevins transferred to MSU last year but had to sit out the season due to NCAA transfer rules. Getting back on the court for real this year, Blevins admitted it took some time to find his sea legs.
But he’s hitting his stride now.
“I’m getting more comfortable. I feel like the last couple games I’m getting back into my flow and just getting back to how I’m used to playing,” said Blevins, who made all nine of his free throw attempts versus NAU, which proved crucial.
“I feel like I’m playing a little harder, I feel like I’m in a little better shape. I can play harder for longer periods of time. With the way I play, running in transition and fighting for rebounds, that’s opened up a lot of stuff for me. Being able to play harder will help me out as the season goes along.”
The powerful-yet-graceful Blevins has a considerable basketball pedigree — his cousin is Portland Trail Blazers all-star Damian Lillard, an ex-Weber State standout and one of the top players in Big Sky Conference history.
Blevins spends his summers working out in Portland, and that’s where he made a connection with MSU assistant coach Eric Jackson, who previously spent 10 years as an apprentice at the University of Portland in the West Coast Conference.
That, in turn, led to Blevins’ arrival at MSU.
Originally from Hot Springs, Arkansas, Blevins started 37 games at Southern Miss from 2014-16, so he’s not a stranger to the Division I grind. His aim now is to continue to produce for the Bobcats, who will look to stay undefeated in conference play this week, first with a home game Thursday versus upstart Northern Colorado (11-4, 2-0).
His teammates are sold.
“He’s gotten more comfortable with what coach wants from him, and coach has gotten more comfortable with Keljin finding his spots in the offense,” point guard Harald Frey said. “And just being aggressive. We keep telling him that. We need him to produce for us and I think he’s done a great job.”
“My preparation is the same before every game, but I’ve just gotten a lot more opportunities with the ball,” Blevins said. “It came with what I was already doing — always running in transition and going for offensive rebounds.
“We feel good. We’ve got a great challenge ahead but I feel like we’re off to a great start.”
Schultz departs team
Freshman post Luke Schultz is leaving the Montana State program. A source told 406mtsports.com on Wednesday that the 6-foot-11, 230-pound Schultz has decided to give up basketball to join the seminary and become a Catholic priest, though Schultz tweeted Wednesday night that he is simply pursuing other college options.
Schultz, who was not expected to play many minutes this season, averaged 1.7 points and 1.6 rebounds in 10 games. He came to MSU out of Our Lady of the Hills Regional Catholic High School in Kerrville, Texas, where he was twice an all-state selection.
“Luke informed me of his decision earlier this week,” Fish said in a Wednesday evening press release confirming Schultz’s exit. “I support him, appreciate his contributions to the program, and wish him the best.”
Schultz is the second freshman to leave MSU since December. Guard Isaac Bonton, of Portland, Oregon, quit the team last month.