BOISE, Idaho — Retired Montana State radio voice Dean Alexander has closely observed Big Sky Conference basketball since 1973, the year he first joined the Bobcats' broadcast team.
Alexander’s opinion of senior guard Tyler Hall is meaningful and persuasive.
“He is such a great shooter. He’s the take-it-and-make-it guy, he’s the back-breaker guy that when you need it he’s going to get it,” Alexander said. “And he’s not a hog. He plays within the team game. I wish he were more of a hog some nights.
“But he’s got that great shot, and then his range is easily the best range of anybody we’ve ever had.”
No one in Big Sky history has scored more points or made more 3-pointers than Hall, who will depart Montana State at the end of this season as one of the program’s legendary players.
But there’s a caveat: For all the amazing shots and incredible numbers, Hall and the Bobcats have struggled to win consistently, be it in the regular season or at the conference tournament. And winning is all Hall has ever wanted to do.
MSU has posted just one winning season in Hall’s four years, and is one game over .500 combined in Big Sky games in that time. The Bobcats are 1-14 against league stalwarts Montana and Weber State in that stretch.
And they’ve yet to win in the postseason tournament since it became a neutral-site, all-comers event in 2016, which was Hall’s freshman year.
If there’s a stigma that follows Hall — fair or not — it’s that he hasn’t won enough to be considered one of the truly great players in Big Sky history.
Yes, Hall’s career has been illustrious. But …
“Yeah. But,” Hall said during a recent post-practice interview, acknowledging that he’s heard those whispers. “I think everyone has their own opinion on that. For me, I feel like I’ve proven myself as a player. I don’t really worry about what other people say.
“Everybody’s going to have their own opinion and everybody is entitled to their own opinion. I have my own inner circle that helps me. Besides that, I don’t focus on it. I read stuff. I see it. But it’s more motivational for me than actually caring. I just use it as motivation.”
Alexander, who likens Hall’s shooting touch to that of past MSU greats like Craig Finberg and Tom Domako, isn’t buying the argument, either.
“I’ve heard that before, and I’ve thought of that,” Alexander said. “But the point is, he has just been Mr. Consistent for four years. He’s done all he can. Could he do more scoring-wise? Yeah, he probably could. But would they win any more games? I don’t know.
“I’m just saying, when you see it out here and the money’s on the table and you’ve got the guy that’s going to get the shot and make the backbreaking 3, he’s the guy. You go to him. But you’ve seen Tyler give up shots. So I don’t know. I’d would hate to ever put that on him.”
Last year was a low-point for Hall in a season that didn’t live up to expectations. He battled an ankle injury and was never really 100 percent. His per-game scoring average dipped by six points and the Bobcats won just six of 18 league games.
In the conference tournament, Hall and MSU saw a 19-point lead slip away in a first-round loss to North Dakota.
But this season has been a reprieve, and Hall is doing more to help the team win without filling up the scoring column every night. For one, Harald Frey’s outstanding play has taken a load off his shoulders.
Hall, who on Tuesday was again named first-team All-Big Sky, had one of his best weekends to close the regular season, scoring 34 and 28 in games against Sacramento State and Portland State last week. The Bobcats lost both games.
What’s become increasingly clear is that MSU is at its best when Hall doesn't dominate the scoring. Oxymoronic for the league’s all-time leading scorer, sure, but it’s a formula that works.
Hall is still averaging a team-best 20.5 points per game, but has led the team in individual scoring just three times since Feb. 7. The Bobcats (14-16, 11-9) enter their first-round tournament game Wednesday against Idaho feeling like they’re well-rounded.
“I think we’re the true meaning of the word ‘team’ this year. We’ve got a lot of guys who can do a lot of things,” fifth-year coach Brian Fish said. “That’s why that group is so fun to be around. Yeah, Tyler’s in the spotlight or Harry’s in the spotlight, but every one of them has been in the spotlight, so it’s been a fun group to be around.”
Coming into his final league tournament, Hall has scored 2,475 career points. To put that in perspective, entering this season only 66 players in Division I history had scored 2,500 or more points. Meanwhile, Hall’s 421 3-pointers are 10th all-time.
In spite of this, Hall has notoriously deflected any individual acclaim or acknowledgement. He says it’s something he learned long ago.
“I truly care more about the team than I do myself,” Hall said. “My dad has been preaching since I was young that it’s about the name on the front of the jersey and not the back. I grew up hearing that my whole life.”
When his MSU career ends, whenever that may be, Hall will likely land somewhere professionally. He says hearing his name called by an NBA team on draft day is a possibility.
But he’s playing for the here and now.
“This whole season is kind of your last everything. I’m just trying to play as hard as I can,” Hall said. “Right now I’m just enjoying it and living in the moment.
“I’m having a blast, being competitive with a great group and a great team. I try not to think about it coming to an end because I’ve really enjoyed this year. I’ve enjoyed every year, but my senior year has been a little more special.
“I love playing here. I love the atmosphere and what the fans bring. Obviously my teammates, I’ve built lifelong friendships. Every year it’s kind of hard to see people go, but now that I’m not going to be here anymore I know the real world is about to hit me.”