BOZEMAN — Harald Frey takes pride in the versatility of his game.
The junior guard from Oslo, Norway, is confident in his ability to get to the rim, distribute the ball or shoot with accuracy from distance. He’s also pretty good in the clutch, and Thursday night provided another example.
Frey took over in crunch time to lead Montana State to a 74-66 home victory over Eastern Washington, a win that allowed the Bobcats to leapfrog the Eagles for fourth place in the Big Sky Conference standings.
MSU trailed by 10 points with 8:50 remaining, but Frey scored 11 points and had two assists and three steals down the stretch.
His biggest shot came with the Bobcats trailing by one with 2:08 left. As EWU defender Tyler Kidd gave him space, Frey launched a 3 that was at minimum 25 feet away from the hoop and buried it to give MSU its first lead in 10 minutes.
Two possessions later — after he stole the ball on the defensive end — Frey made another basket to extend the advantage, and his two free throws with 27 seconds left put the Cats up by five and sealed the win.
Of his long-range confidence in a crucial moment, Frey said Kidd “kind of sagged off because I’d been trying to get at the basket a couple of possessions there. When he backed off I just saw an opening and let it fly.
“If I’m honest I’m not really sure how deep it was. I didn’t really notice. It just felt natural.”
Frey was at his best when it mattered most, but to the Bobcats it was their defensive prowess in the final 10 minutes that allowed them to prevail.
MSU went down 59-49 after a Peatling basket, which was part of a 12-1 EWU scoring run. That’s when Bobcats coach Brian Fish switched to a zone defense in an attempt to mitigate the Eagles propensity to get to the basket — in particular guard Jacob Davison, who scored a game-high 24 points.
The result: Montana State closed the game on a 25-7 run.
“They certainly got on a run there,” Fish said. “I was a little worried about the juice that they got after they made a couple 3s. And then we switched to zone with eight minutes to go. We had to throw something at them. We were able to find a way.”
Tyler Hall, the Big Sky’s all-time scoring leader, finished with just five points but was able to affect the game in other ways. Hall had three blocked shots, three steals and four assists to go along with seven rebounds.
Devin Kirby, meanwhile, finished with a career-high 19 points, taking advantage of MSU’s screen-and-roll game while going toe-to-toe with EWU’s Mason Peatling and Jesse Hunt down low. Kirby made 8 of 11 shots, including three alley-oop dunks, two of which came off lobs from Frey.
“I’ve been talking about it all year. Playing with these guards, playing with Harry has been great,” Kirby said. “I just have to find the open pockets. I’ve got to make sure that I keep being active down there and finding the pockets of space and the ball will come to me.”
Frey’s line was superlative: 22 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and five steals. As a team Montana State had 11 swipes on defense.
It was the Bobcats’ second consecutive victory after last Saturday’s emotional home defeat to rival Montana, a game in which they felt they let slip away in the final moments.
On Monday, MSU went on the road and knocked off Northern Colorado 69-66. The Bears, at the time, were tied with the Grizzlies for first place in the Big Sky standings.
“We were in the same position on Monday, and that’s what pulled us through was the defense,” Frey said. “We shut them out to end the game. We always think we can score with anyone, that’s the confidence we have in ourselves on the offensive end. For us it comes down to the defensive end.”
“I think we’re trending in the right direction at the right time,” Frey added. “Two great defensive games in a row now, holding the opposing team to 66 points, and two good offensive teams. I think that’s a good sign for us. We’ve just got to keep working.”
The Bobcats improved to 10-12 overall and to 7-5 in the Big Sky. Eastern Washington fell to 8-14 and 6-5.
MSU will host last-place Idaho on Saturday at 2 p.m.
NOTES: Bobcats F Zeke Quinlan sat out with a sprained right foot that he suffered Monday at Northern Colorado. Fish said the team is still waiting for MRI results but is hopeful Quinlan will be available by next week.