BOZEMAN, Mont. — Thursday night saw two teams square off in Big Sky action who are trending in different directions. The Montana State Bobcats played host to the North Dakota Fighting Hawks in Bozeman, MT, in the first of two meetings between the schools this season.
Following a blowout loss to the Portland State Vikings to open conference play, the Fighting Hawks came into Thursday’s tilt riding a three-game win streak.
On the flip side, the Bobcats knocked off the Idaho State Bengals to open up Big Sky play, but have lost their last three contests.
The hosts were hoping to flip the script and get back on the right track, while the visitors were hoping to keep riding their hot streak to another win in conference play.
Despite trailing by four at halftime, North Dakota would find a way to keep their winning streak alive. Quinton Hooker scored a game-high 24 points, and four starters for North Dakota scored in double-figures to lead the Fighting Hawks to the 90-85 win over Montana State.
Geno Crandall opened the scoring with a three pointer in the first minute of the game, and the Fighting Hawks went on a 7-0 run out of the gate to build some early momentum. North Dakota would hold a lead for most of the opening half, stretching their advantage to as many as eight points.
With 5:44 to play in the half, Benson Osayande got a layup to fall for the Bobcats, tying the game at 31-all. Montana State would take their first lead of the game under two minutes later, as a pair of free throws from Joe Mvuezolo, Jr. gave the home side a 33-32 lead.
The lead would reach seven points for the Bobcats in the closing minutes of the half, and they would hold a 42-38 advantage at the break.
Out of the gate in the second, Hooker hit a pair of free throws to get North Dakota on the board first, much like the first half. The Bobcats responded with a 8-2 run to push their lead up to eight points, capped off by five straight points from Tyler Hall.
Just like Montana State had an answer to the free throws by Hooker, the Fighting Hawks answered the Bobcats’ run with one of their own. An 8-0 run, highlighted by a pair of three pointers from Hooker and Corey Baldwin, tied the game at 50-all.
Over the next few minutes, it was a back-and-forth affair, with Montana State clinging to a slim lead.
With under 8 to play in the game, North Dakota would overtake the Bobcats, this time for good. A layup from Baldwin gave the Fighting Hawks a 68-66 lead, and they never looked back.
Zach Green hit a pair of free throws with under five minutes to play to bring Montana State within four, at 76-72, but they weren’t able to regain the lead. Timely free throw shooting from North Dakota down the stretch sealed the deal for the visitors.
It was a hard-fought battle, but North Dakota came away with the 90-85 road win over Montana State.
Quinton Hooker scored a game-high 24 points to lead the way for the Fighting Hawks. Geno Crandall scored 22 points, while also adding 7 assists and 4 steals in the win.
Conner Avants chipped in with 20 points of his own, 18 of which came in the second half.
For the Bobcats, sophomore Tyler Hall once again led the team in scoring, recording 23 points and pulling down 11 rebounds for the double-double. He also added 4 assists in the loss.
The win extends the winning streak to four games for the North Dakota Fighting Hawks (9-6, 4-1), who now sit in a tie for second place in the Big Sky with the Montana Grizzlies. The Fighting Hawks and Grizzlies square off on Saturday in Missoula, MT.
With the loss, the losing streak for the Montana State Bobcats (6-12, 1-4) has reached four games. They will look to get back on track on Saturday, when they take on the Northern Colorado Bears.
– T. Bennett