CEDAR CITY, UTAH – RaeQuan Battle already had his fair share of clutch moments, so it came as no surprise that he delivered again for the Montana State men’s basketball team against Southern Utah on Wednesday night.
With seven seconds left and an 83 tie, Southern Utah’s Deng Dut tried to make a cross-court pass with Battle defending it, but the 6’5-inch junior stole the ball, hurtling down the court and ended a right-handed layup through contact four seconds from time, his free throw ended Montana State’s 86-83 away win.
“RaeQuan was incredible,” said the Montana State head coach Danny Sprinkle said Bobcat Sports Radio Network. “Some of the shots he made in the second half were incredible. I told him after the game what he did tonight was incredible, but that’s who he is.”
— Montana State Men’s Basketball (@MSUBobcatsMBB) December 1, 2022
Battle would lead all scorers with 29 points — including a career-best 7-for-11 clip of three — plus two rebounds, two blocks and two steals. Darius Brown II finished with 17 points on 6-for-10 shooting (and a perfect 3-for-3 from three) while dishing out five assists and catching five rebounds. As a team, the Bobcats shot from three season bests with a 54.2% score (13-16) and overtook the Thunderbirds by a margin of 35-32.
Great Osobor (14 points, 8 rebounds) and Caleb Fuller (13 points) provided valuable spare minutes after Jubrile Belo imposed a flagrant first-half foul with six minutes remaining and was eliminated.
“Everything happens for a reason, and that’s what made a lot of the other guys stand up,” Sprinkle said of the sacking. “Great Osobor was great – he went 6-for-6 from the free throw line. Caleb Fuller was great. These guys have really stepped up in Jubrile’s absence.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of these guys,” Sprinkle added. “They literally had everything against them tonight but they kept fighting. It was our fourth game on a long road trip across multiple different time zones. But they came and fought against a really good team.”
Montana State (4-5) faced early adversity when Belo’s aforementioned ejection put the Bobcats on the ropes in a dismal first half. Aided by a full-court press, Southern Utah (4-4) recovered from a double-digit deficit in both halves, but the Bobcats countered by going 61.5% (8-on-13) from three in the first half shot.
Brown II scored the first of his 15 first-half points by sinking a three, then Fuller came off the bench and scored after two possessions to give the Bobcats an early 12-7 lead. The Bobcats would lead by as much as 12, a jumper from Battle making it a 23-11 game to play 10:08.
This prompted Todd Simon’s Thunderbirds to ramp up their defensive pressure.
In a disastrous two-minute span for the Bobcats, SUU forced six turnovers at Montana State, Belo ejected, then Cameron Healy gave the hosts a 24-23 lead with 6:33 left. But Battle ended the goalless drought with a straight three-pointer, Osobor made a layup, then Battle hit another three-pointer to make it a 31-25 game.
Southern Utah would draw within three points again, only for a series of threes from Brown II, Nick Gazelas and Tyler Patterson to give the Bobcats a sizeable lead. MSU would lead 46:35 at halftime after Brown II did a midrange pull-up jumper after time was up.
“I’ve been waiting for us to have a big night of shooting — especially Nick Gazelas, Tyler Patterson, and even Darius,” Sprinkle said. “We know Darius can shoot, but sometimes he was too selfless. We told him to be more aggressive tonight, and he made Southern Utah pay for it. I thought he was great in the first half.”
Battle’s third three initiated the goals in the second half, but the Thunderbirds continued an 8-0 run until two free throws from Osobor momentarily halted SUU’s momentum. Southern Utah would go on a 9-0 run to take a 58-56 lead, then field goals from Caleb Fuller and Sam Lecholat helped give MSU the lead.
Tension built up in the second half. Both teams were assessed technical fouls after baskets thrown, and both teams ran into trouble late on as the Thunderbirds seemed to be gaining momentum. Yet the Bobcats shot the Thunderbirds 75% to 63.2% off the free throw line in the second half, which helped keep Southern Utah from retiring.
Trailing 71-67 and with five minutes to go, Battle came alive with back-to-back threes. Despite SUU threatening to retire late, MSU equalized with a layup by Fuller at 76, then Battle equalized at 79 with 2:19 left. Battles Springer gave MSU an 83-81 advantage, then the Thunderbirds responded with Jason Spurgins layup, who tied the game for 83 points with 46 seconds remaining.
An MSU miss on his penultimate possession gave Southern Utah the ball with 12 seconds left and the shot clock went off, but Battle would come through for his game-winning layup.
The Bobcats will return to Bozeman for a three-game home game beginning December 8 at 7 p.m. against St. Thomas. Single game tickets for all remaining home games can be found at msubobcats.info/tickets