Montana State's Sizzling Second Half Sends the Bobcats Dancing! - Montana State University Athletics (2024)

Montana State's Sizzling Second Half Sends the Bobcats Dancing! - Montana State University Athletics (1)

Garrett Becker

  • Box Score




23-11,12-6 Big Sky

Montana State's Sizzling Second Half Sends the Bobcats Dancing! - Montana State University Athletics (5)

Score By Periods
Team 1 2 F
Montana St. MSU 32 53 85
Montana Mont 38 32 70

Game Recap: Men's Basketball | | Bill Lamberty

The Cats beat the Grizzlies in the Big Sky Championship Game

Three minutes into the second half of Wednesday's Big Sky Championship game, Montana led the Bobcats 49-38. The Grizzlies hadn't trailed for the previous 15 minutes of game time and appeared in control. And then the game, and the entire 2023-24 season, took an unexpected turn.

Or rather, an unexpected Turner.

Eddie Turner III hit a turnaround jumper in the lane to key a 15-2 run that completely flipped the game to Montana State. The result was an 85-70 win that propelled the Cats into the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time in history and the third consecutive year, which ties a record set by Weber State from 1978-80 when the league tourney consisted of just four teams.

Turner III finished with 15 points, but his backcourt mate led the charge. Robert Ford III scored a game-high 22 points, grabbed nine rebounds, and registered five steals on his way Big Sky Tournament MVP Honors. "He has put this team on his back from an identity perspective, and it's been amazing," Logie said of Ford III.

Ford III and Turner III received plenty of support. John Olmsted scored a career-high 16 points, Brandon Walker added 14 points and six rebounds, and Sam Lecholat grabbed six boards, as well.

Still, Montana thoroughly dominated the five minutes that sandwiched halftime. The Grizzlies used a 21-9 scoring run that led to the 11-point lead at the 17 minute mark of the second stanza. MSU coach Matt Logie said that his team's perseverance and renewed commitment on defense turned the tide. "We talked at halftime about the fact that we've been playing our best basketball in the second half," the team's first-year leader said. "We tweaked a couple of things defensively that allowed us to get some stops."

After Montana built its largest lead, Montana State's run covered 15 minutes. So thoroughly did the Cats dominate their arch-rival in that time that MSU constructed scoring runs of 10-1, 14-0, and 12-3. MSU held the Grizzlies to 1-14 shooting over the championship-deciding 11-minute stretch of the second half, and for the 15 minutes that began with the Grizzlies leading 49-38 the Cats outscored Montana 41-9.

Forty-one to nine.

"41-9 is ridiculous," Logie said on the Big Sky Courtside show.

Five different Bobcats contributed to the scoring during that stretch. Ford III scored 12, Turner III 10, Patterson eight, Olmsted seven, and Walker four. But Montana State's second-half domination went further than individual basket-making. The Cats shot 58 percent after halftime to UM's 43 percent, shot 33 percent from three-point range to 20 percent, hit 78 percent of its free throws to 67 percent, and committed just one turnover to Montana's 11.

The story of the first half was told in the foul column and at the free throw line. From the game's first possession, when MSU's Brian Goracke was whistled for a foul, the Grizzlies drew nine fouls and were whistled for only four, and turned that into 10 made free throws on 13 attempts while the Cats shot only four.

Otherwise, the game was a blow-for-blow slugfest. Until the last minute, neither team led by more than four. With 48 seconds until halftime, UM guard Josh Vasquez dropped a three-pointer to push UM's lead to 36-30. Eddie Turner III netted a teardrop runner on the next possession, but Vazquez answered with a short jumper to give the Grizzlies a 38-32 lead at the intermission. The Grizzlies shot 48 percent in the first half, to MSU's 42 percent. UM out-rebounded the Cats 19-16, bur turned the ball over five times to MSU's two.

Strangely, Montana State's second half on Wednesday – and throughout the tournament – mirrored the team's season. The Bobcats struggled with before Christmas and even lost to the last place Big Sky team at home twice in February, but finished the season with a Senior Night win over Weber State that created momentum and a template for tourney success.

"I'm not gonna lie, a couple weeks ago it was looking real rough," forward Sam Lecholat told Bobcat play-by-play voice Keaton Gillogly on the Bobcat Radio Network by Learfield after the game. "But the leadership we have on this team with Robert Ford and Coach Logie, the focus that we have and the belief. Unreal."

Montana State won its third straight Big Sky Championship, tying Weber State's run from 1978-80 as the longest in conference history. The Cats' four straight championship game appearances is second-most in Big Sky annals, and the team's current nine-game tourney winning streak is the longest by a Big Sky team in history.

As incredible and transformative as the most recent four seasons have been for Bobcat Basketball, Logie's journey has been equally amazing. He has now led programs to the NCAA Tournament at the Division III (Whitworth), Division II (Point Loma), and Division I (Montana State) levels, and has danced in March 14 times as a coach including his time as an assistant.

Less than a year ago, when he took over a the Bobcats after Danny Sprinkle's departure, he inherited barely a starting lineup's total of players. He first built an experienced and successful coaching staff, then constructed a roster.

Not to be lost in the celebration was Montana State's Championship Game opponent. The Cats beat Montana after the Grizzlies whipped MSU twice by double-digits in the regular season. The Bobcats evened their all-time Big Sky Tournament record against the Griz at 6-6, but most importantly have won both title tilts between the two.

"It's surreal, obviously," Logie said. "Taking over when we did and how we did, no one believed that this could happen except our kids and our coaches and our administration that supports us at an elite level. There's no way to describe what this journey's been like for the players and this staff. When you take over a program like Montana State has had you have to have no fear, because the expectations are so high. Our final record, at the end of the day, wasn't as important as how we played this week."

And how Montana State played this week landed the team its sixth, and perhaps least likely, trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Cats finish the regular season 17-17, and learn their NCAA Tournament fate on Selection Sunday.


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Montana State's Sizzling Second Half Sends the Bobcats Dancing! - Montana State University Athletics (2024)


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