BOZEMAN, Mont. – Montana State and Northern Arizona are set to meet for a back-to-back set of Big Sky Conference men’s basketball games in Flagstaff. The two teams open the two-game series Thursday at 6 p.m. in Rolle Activity Center.
“It’s going to be a totally different style of play than Portland State,” Montana State head coach Danny Sprinkle said. “That’s what’s fun about league play is everybody plays a little different. (Northern Arizona) is playing well, they didn’t have their best shooter last weekend, but we expect him to be back. They’re a young team, but they’re talented and they play hard.”
The Bobcats completed a regular season sweep over Portland State on Jan. 16 to extend their winning streak to five games. The active win streak is MSU’s longest since the 2016-17 season.
MSU’s 4-0 start to its Big Sky Schedule matches its record that the ‘Cats put together to open their 2017-18 league slate. The Bobcats haven’t begun their conference schedule 5-0 since the 2004-05 season.
Montana State has established a 7-3 overall mark in its first 10 games of the season. The Bobcats’ 10-game start is their best since the 1997-98 season. That year, MSU eventually jumped out to an 11-3 start before finishing the season 19-11 overall.
MSU turned the tide on Portland State’s recent success over the Bobcats. MSU earned a 71-64 victory Thursday and followed it up with a 69-64 win Saturday. Prior to this season’s series, the Vikings had won five of the last six matchups and eight of the previous 11 games. While the Bobcats took control in the first half in the opening matchup versus the Viks, MSU came back from a six-point halftime deficit on Saturday.
A set of trends continued following the series against Portland State. The Bobcats are now 6-0 this season when scoring over 70 points. MSU is 7-2 when it out-shoots its opponent while no team has shot over 50% against the ‘Cats. Montana State is 6-2 this year when they commit less or tie an opponent in turnovers, while the Bobcats are 5-0 when they out-rebound the opposition.
Jubrile Belo claimed Big Sky weekly player of the week honors for the first time this season, and the second time of his career, for his performances against Portland State. Belo had consecutive double-double games against the Vikings. MSU is up to three weekly awards from the Big Sky this season, with Xavier Bishop being honored twice previously.
Prior to facing Portland State, the Bobcats returned to Bozeman following back-to-back victories over Northern Colorado in Greeley to open conference action. MSU’s regular season sweep of UNC was its first over the Bears since the 2006-07 season.
Northern Arizona enters Thursday’s game at 4-9 overall and 3-4 in Big Sky play. The Lumberjacks most recently split a set of games in Missoula against Montana.
“That’s the one thing that really sticks out on film is how hard they play,” Sprinkle said. “They’ve been down 15-20 a couple times and came back and won games. Even last week, they went on a 12-0 run to win the game in Missoula. We know they’re playing with a lot of confidence right now and we know we’re going to have to play our best two games of the year.”
Montana State holds a 52-51 all-time series lead over Northern Arizona. The Bobcats have won three straight over the Lumberjacks heading into Thursday’s contest. A season ago, MSU won the two contests over NAU by a combined eight points. Jubrile Belo averaged 18.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per contest against the Jacks. Cameron Shelton was one of NAU’s scoring leaders, scoring a game-high 21 points in the second matchup on Feb. 29.
The Lumberjacks are led this season by Cameron Shelton who’s averaging 21.4 points in 37.2 minutes per game. He’s joined in double digits by Luke Avdalovic who has missed NAU’s previous three contests.
Both of MSU’s contests versus Northern Arizona will be streamed on the Pluto TV app (channel 1058) and on WatchBigSky.com. All Bobcat basketball games are available to listen to as part of the Bobcat Sports Radio Network and air locally on KMMS 1450 AM.