Bobcats suffer heartbreaking loss for Middle Tennessee state

MONTREAL – The Montana State men’s basketball team came back all the way from a seven-point deficit and had a point advantage with less than a minute left, but the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders walked away with a 72-71 win in the final game of the Northern Classic to be held in Montreal, Canada on Sunday afternoon.

The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (5-2) led 3:13 to go by seven points, but the Montana State Bobcats (3-5) stormed back with a three-point play from Patrick McMahon and nine points from RaeQuan Battle. After a 71-69 lead, three points from the Blue Raiders’ Elias King put MSU down 72-71 with 13 seconds left. Jubrile Belo had a chance for a game-winning layup on the final possession, but his try through heavy contact was not good after the time was up.


“We got the ball right where we wanted it,” said the Montana State head coach Danny Sprinkle said Bobcat Sports Radio Network. “I think everyone who saw the game knew exactly what happened after that.”


Battle led by 24 points in 8-for-13 shooting and added four steals as a team high. Belo added 16 points and four rebounds for his third double-digit game in the Northern Classic, while Darius Brown II had two points but dished out a career-high 16 assists, which also breaks the program record for most assists in a single game.


“Darius did a great job getting the ball to Jubrile and he had great passes to our shooters,” Sprinkle said. “I thought he was controlling the game even though Middle Tennessee State chased him all game. MTSU is really athletic and long and I’m proud of how Darius played against them.”


Playing in a fast-paced, physical game, the Bobcats beat the Blue Raiders in all three stages, taking 56.5% from the field, 35.7% (5-for-14) from three, and 87.5% (14-for-14). -16) from the closed charity strips. But 23 costly turnovers hurt the Bobcats against MTSU’s fast, athletic defense.


First, the state of Montana was the aggressor on the defense. The Bobcats forced four turnovers in the first four minutes, leading to a 7-4 lead. But Tyler Patterson’s three to wrap up the 5-0 run would be MSU’s last points for four minutes and 43 seconds; The Blue Raiders were leading 12-7 until two free throws from Belo made it a 12-9 game, with an 11-51 at halftime.


MSU worked it for its next three field goals as Belo, Fuller and Great Osobor battled down to make it a 17-15 game in favor of Middle Tennessee State, then Battle took an MTSU pass and dribbled over the length of the floor and finished a difficult reverse layup through contact to level the game at 17. He finished the three-point game to give MSU the lead, sparking a 9-0 run from Bobcat. Lecholat made a layup to extend MSU’s lead to three, then Battle deflected a miss on Patterson, who helped start a quick break that led to a dunk from Belo.


MSU’s 24-19 lead with 5-53 in the first half would be the biggest of the game, but MTSU’s Jared Coleman-Jones rattled off four unanswered points that led to a 9-0 run for MTSU.


The Bobcats have shown improvements in the last two games of the Northern Classic, closing 6-6 at halftime from the charity streak and taking a 32-31 lead when Lecholat hung up at halftime with 59 seconds left. Still, Middle Tennessee would enter the locker room with a 33-32 advantage.


The fight came out of the locker room and fired on all guns for MSU and scored the first nine points of the half for the Bobcats in countless ways. The junior hit turn three to get started, drove in to a layup from an out-of-bounds game on next possession, then pulled up on the left elbow for a middle-range jumper to give MSU a 39-38 lead. Then Brown II threw a cross-court pass over the MTSU defense into the waiting arms of Battle, who dunk to give the Bobcats a 41-38 lead.


Montana State would take a 50-46 lead — its largest lead at halftime — from a layup by Caleb Fuller with 12:55 to go. Then the game was unraveled.


The state of Middle Tennessee took the lead in three consecutive MSU sales. After the third, Robert Ford III committed a joint foul, then a double technical on Battle and MTSU’s Camryn Weston not only increased the excitement of the game but sent Battle on the bench with his fourth foul. The Blue Raiders would go for a brief 51-50 lead from free throws before Brown II sunk his first field goal of the night to retake the lead.


Back-to-back turnovers gave the Blue Raiders a 62-56 lead while the Bobcats went nearly two minutes without a field goal. MSU would break out of their scoring drought and start their final rally when Brown II found a streaky Patrick McMahon in substitution who fouled on his dunk and took the bonus to make it a 66-62 game by 3-10 close.


Then Battle almost got the Bobcats back in the game, first with a deep three on the right wing to reduce the deficit to one. The Blue Raiders shared two free throws at the other end, then Battle made contact with an NBA range three and pocketed all three free throws to give MSU a one-point lead. A turn three just ahead of the MSU bench gave the Bobcats a 71-69 advantage, but the Bobcats couldn’t hold onto the win.


“It was a really physical game and I’m really proud of how our boys fought,” said Sprinkle. “We played hard. We told them before the game that we wanted them to play hard no matter what.”


The Bobcats return to the States on November 30 at 7:00 p.m. to play former Big Sky foes Southern Utah. MSU’s next home game is on Thursday, December 8 at 7:00 p.m. against St. Thomas


Single-game tickets for all remaining home games can be found at msubobcats.com/tickets, and all home games — except for the Cat/Griz matchup — are free until Monday at 11:59 p.m. with promo code BOGO

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