BOZEMAN — As a commodity, Harald Frey’s value to Montana State is difficult to characterize because he does so much throughout the course of a game. But coach Brian Fish — in typical form — did his best to explain it.
“What that Bitcoin is or whatever? He’s probably as valuable as that,” Fish quipped Saturday after Frey carried the Bobcats to an 84-73 Big Sky Conference victory over Northern Arizona at Worthington Arena.
“Buy stock in Harry. I would.”
In more practical terms, Frey’s worth is immense. Tyler Hall gets most of the attention, but you can make a strong argument that Frey is MSU’s most valuable player. And he showed why again in the victory over the Lumberjacks by putting the team on his back.
Frey scored 30 points, hit six 3-pointers, grabbed six rebounds, dished out six assists and had four steals as the Bobcats (13-14, 10-7 Big Sky) reached double digit conference wins for the second time in Fish’ five-year tenure as coach.
More important, Frey controlled the flow of the contest as the Bobcats fought to shake off the rust of playing for just the second time in a two-week stretch. NAU (9-19, 7-11) is a Big Sky bottom dweller this year but wouldn’t go quietly. And Frey’s dead-eye shooting made the difference.
First, the junior lefty from Oslo, Norway, hit two 3-pointers late in the opening half to help MSU take a seven-point advantage at intermission. Then, with 3:57 remaining, Frey hit another triple to put the Bobcats up 74-67.
And in the final 1:35, Frey buried another 3, assisted on one by Hall, and scored on a jumper to seal the win.
He made it look easy in the process.
Frey notwithstanding, it was a pretty pedestrian performance by the Bobcats. At one point in the first half they missed 13 consecutive shots.
“Especially the first half we thought was very sloppy on our part,” Frey said. “Good in stretches, but then we’d do stuff we have not been working on. Dumb plays. And I think some of that comes with having so few games. You’ve kind of got to get some of that rust out a little bit.
“But the most important thing is we found a way to win, and that’s what good teams do.”
Of his growth and development, Fish said Frey has “learned how to set a tone, how to read his team, and how to be effective when the team isn’t. When you win basketball games, somebody’s got to take the tiger by the tail and say, ‘Hey, this isn’t happening today.’
“That was a game today that we could lose because of lackadaisical stuff there, and we weren’t very good. And Harry willed us to a seven-point lead at half and that kind of propelled (us) in the locker room and got us going.”
Earlier this season, Hall became the Big Sky’s all-time leading scorer and joined an exclusive list of just 18 Division I players to make 400 or more 3-point shots. The senior from Rock Island, Illinois, is set to go down in MSU annals as the premier player in program history.
But where would the Bobcats be without Frey?
Perhaps not challenging for a first-round bye to the league tournament, which is where they are with three games remaining on the schedule. Saturday marked Frey’s third 30-point game of the year, and it was his fourth game with at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Frey is in the midst of his best season as a Bobcat, with per-game averages of 16.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists.
This final regular-season homestand — MSU plays its last game in front of its fans Monday versus Southern Utah — is a last lap of sorts for Hall. His whole family is in town to help send him off.
But Frey gave a glimpse into what life might be like starting next season without Hall.
“He’s a great player,” Hall said. “We all trust him with the ball in his hands, and when he gets going it’s fun to watch even when you’re out there on the court. I just kind of did that towards the end.”
Entering Saturday there was a big jam-up in the middle of the standings as teams continue to jostle for tournament positioning. MSU did its part to remain in fourth place. On their heels, though, are Eastern Washington (which beat Portland State on Saturday with a buzzer-beating 3) and Southern Utah, in particular.
The league’s top five teams will earn first-round byes in Boise. The week ahead is crucial.
“Every game is important, but in February they count double and in March they count triple,” Frey said. “The race right now, if you look at the standings, is really tied for seedings. So every win is huge, and this was another step toward getting that bye to the first round.”