BOZEMAN — Montana State guard Amin Adamu took a swing and quickly fired a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from the right wing in the first half against Montana on Sunday.
He sunk it with a confident shooting stroke and a contested defender flying at him, putting the Bobcats up 23-21 at the 8:04 mark of the half. The Bobcats never trailed as Montana State broke a six-game slide in the Brawl of the Wild with a 66-59 win over Montana at Worthington Arena in Bozeman.
Montana had the makings of a comeback late, cutting a 13-point deficit down to just three off a surge led by Cameron Parker. He found something that worked inside and got rewarded for it with trips to the foul line, where he hit six free throws and a contested 3-pointer from the wing to make it a 56-53 game at the 4:34 mark of the second half.
"We were struggling offensively in general," Montana head coach Travis DeCuire said. "We just didn't really have any flow. He got it going off the ball screens and getting to the rim. When guys get something, we typically stick with it until someone stops it."
But an and-1 by Bobcats guard Xavier Bishop and a thunderous dunk by Bobcats big Jubrile Belo off a broken play put the Cats up six with under a minute left, ignited the crowd and doused the comeback.
"We call them championship plays," Montana State third-year coach Danny Sprinkle, who took his first win over Montana as a coach, said. "You have to make those plays to beat the University of Montana. To beat a Travis DeCuire-coached team, you have to make those plays, and I kept telling the guys that in the last eight minutes you can't wait for something to happen. You can't wait for a rebound to come to you. You have to go make the play."
" ... This game, you don't have to get them ready for it, and I know (DeCuire) doesn't have to say anything to his guys," Sprinkle added. "They know, they hear about it. ... It's the biggest game in the state."
Montana suffered its first loss since losing to Santa Clara in mid-December and drops to 11-6 overall and 4-2 in Big Sky play.
Montana State took its third win in a row and gets to 12-5 overall and 4-2 in league play, propelling itself into the top of the league standings, which are getting more and more crowded.
Adamu finished with a season-high 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting while going 3 of 4 from distance. Despite a slow start caused by Montana stifling the post and interior, Belo finished with 10 points and 11 boards.
Parker scored 16 in the second half for a team-high 18. Robby Beasley III added 15 for Montana.
"Our older guys played like older guys, and that's what you have to do in games like this," Sprinkle said.
The last time Montana State beat Montana, the Big Sky Conference and Bobcats' all-time leading scorer, Tyler Hall, dropped 37 on the Grizzlies.
While this year's game didn't feature that type of individual performance, the Bobcats were able to build a 13-point lead in the second half after holding just a 36-33 lead entering the half.
The Bobcats, who shot 4 of 7 from 3 in the first half, got inside in the second half more, taking advantage of their weight and height advantage in the lane. Belo scored all of his points in the final 20 minutes. Bozeman native Mack Anderson fouled out around the seven-minute mark.
At times, Belo looked like a bulldozer, clearing his way inside and using his frame to get through Montana defenders. It was the game plan by the Grizzlies to block the post early, but it did lead to those early treys for the Cats to help them get a groove on offense.
"We knew that they try to would post up like Eastern Washington was doing," DeCuire said. "That presents an issue for everyone in this conference. (Belo) draws a lot of fouls, he is very physical, and it's hard to stop him when he gets close to the rim. So, that was an emphasis, and I think we were a little too emphasized on that in the first half, which opened up a lot of uncontested shots for (Abdul) Mohamed and Adamu. That's why those guys go 5 of 6 from 3."
Montana State shot 51.1 percent from the field, 50 percent from deep and 73.7 percent from the foul line. Montana shot 39.6 percent from the field, 4 of 15 from deep and the usual solid 13 of 16 from the foul line.