Long Beach, California – The Montana State men’s basketball team got hot as junior guard Rayquan Battle scored a career-high 24 points to lead the Bobcats to a 70-57 win at Long Beach State on Sunday evening.
The Bobcats (1-1) started the game 6-for-17 (35.3%) from three in the first half, turning over late first-half mistakes to keep Long Beach State (1-2) at arm’s length. For the second straight game, the Bobcats had a balanced offensive attack as all 10 players who saw the court scored. Also, Montana State got hot from beyond the arc: six players made threes to help MSU out-shoot LBSU 33% to 14% from distance.
“I liked the way our guys handled adversity,” the Montana State head coach Spray Danny Said. “Long Beach State pressed, flew around and picked up the pace. I’m proud of our effort and the way the guys played together and played off each other.”
Montana State outrebounded Beach by a 40-29 margin, tripled the hosts with 15 assists and gave LBSU five assists and was more effective from the charity stripe. The Bobcats capitalized on LBSU double-bonus for most of the second half, making 22-of-27 free-throw attempts.
“We started the game three-on-five and we had great looks,” Sprinkle said. “Our shooters will get better looks and open up games a lot.”
The first four made three field goals and Montana State jumped out to a 16-6 lead before the first timeout. In particular, RaeQuan Battle went 3-for-3 from distance in the first four minutes, helping lead the game with 24 points. After dry spells for both teams, Montana State took a double-digit lead on Nick Gazelles free throws to make the score 19-8.
Beach would respond with a 4-0 run of their own, yet Robert Ford III helped lead MSU to a 5-0 run: first a corner three off an inbounds play, then a poor pass found Darius Brown II. For a transition layup.
Montana State stepped on the gas pedal. Battle threw down an inbounds playoff dunk, and Patterson then made his second half for a 32-17 lead. The Bobcats’ early baskets paid off and the team overcame a six-minute scoring drought late in the half, while Beach went on a 7-0 run to make it a 32-24 ballgame at the half.
In the second half, Brown helped snap Montana State’s scoring drought with a pass over LBSU’s defense. From there, the Bobcats found their rhythm with Jubril Belo’s hook shot, another Battle layup and a three by Brown to put MSU ahead 43-32 with 15:31 left.
“His motor was on another level,” Sprinkle said. “He’s athletic and talented, and when he plays like that, he’s very difficult to guard. I’m proud of him for taking the right shots at the right time, and that’s the next step for him to be a great player. I’m proud of how he defended Jaden Jones tonight, holding him to zero points.”
LBSU threw a three-quarter-court press on Montana State after an under-12 timeout, yet the Bobcats settled down and continued to keep Beach at arm’s length. Caleb Fuller helped the Bobcats pull away with four quick points, however, and LBSU would go on a mini 5-0 run to make it a 47-41 game.
One sign in the Bobcats’ favor in the second half was the team’s ability to draw fouls. Battle drew back-to-back fouls from LBSU and sank all four free-throws to give him his first career 20-point game with 9:35 left.
Breaking a six-minute field goal drought, the Bobcats got back on the board with a cleanup dunk off the bat, a jumper by Robert Ford III, and then another basket off the bat, who had been hot hands throughout the second half. Montana State would take a 59-48 lead with 4:58 left, but Beach would clog within eight points with two defensive stops with less than four minutes to play.
Long Beach State attempted a comeback, but a layup from Patrick McMahon helped MSU maintain a 61-51 lead with 2:34 left. Ford’s free throws and Brown’s six late points helped the Bobcats close 70-57.
Joel Murray led The Beach with 21 points on 9-of-19 shooting. The Bobcats were helped by Brown’s 11 points and Ford III’s seven points off the bench.
The Bobcats head north to play No. 21 Oregon (1-1) — which previously lost to UC Irvine — Tuesday at 7 p.m. MT. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.