Schedule doesn’t get easier for Montana State

December 13, 2016 GMT

BOZEMAN — Days before an 83-78 home loss to Milwaukee, Montana State coach Brian Fish expressed concern over his team’s December basketball schedule.

In the aftermath of the Milwaukee loss — a game in which Tyler Hall erupted for 42 points but had little help — Fish further illustrated his unease.

“I think it’s as tough as anything we’ve faced,” Fish said of MSU’s nonconference run. “We’re going to have to buckle down and play because we’re not getting beat by bad teams. (Milwaukee is) a really good team that played very, very well. Give them credit. They’re very well coached.

“It’s going to be a lot of sleepless nights here figuring out what we’ve got to do.”

In the week since he made those comments, Fish’s Bobcats dropped road contests to South Dakota and Omaha, pushing their losing streak to four games.

The sleepless nights are adding up.

MSU, now with a 5-6 record, was out of sorts in a 74-57 loss to South Dakota. The Bobcats turned the ball over 17 times, which led to 19 South Dakota points. Hall scored 30 fewer points against the Coyotes than he did versus Milwaukee, but he also took 15 fewer shots.

Zach Green led the Bobcats with 25 points in a 97-91 loss to Omaha, and freshman point guard Harald Frey had one of his best statistical performances of the year with 17 points and six assists.

MSU’s supporting cast gave Hall some much needed scoring help, but it was a game that resembled MSU’s 100-97 defeat to the Mavericks a year earlier at Worthington Arena: Defensive stops were at a premium, and the Cats didn’t get nearly enough.

Last month, MSU won six of eight games — two were NAIA victories — and had strong momentum going into their current stretch. But November thrills have turned into December ills.

The team is now in the throes of finals week and doesn’t get a chance to redeem itself until Sunday when it hosts a rematch with South Dakota, which picked the Bobcats apart in their first meeting.

There’s no rest for the weary.

Next Wednesday the Bobcats will close their non-league schedule at home against Central Michigan, a team that boasts the leading scorer in Division I. They will close December with their first Big Sky games at home against defending conference champion Weber State and a matchup with Idaho State.

Here is a closer look at what the Bobcats face going forward:

Sunday vs. South Dakota: It was a rough night all around for MSU in the first meeting between the teams. Guarding against turnovers and answering the Coyotes’ physical style could again be crucial factors in the rematch.

Aside from their costly turnover total, the Bobcats made just 4 of 20 3-point attempts the first time around, and were outrebounded 45-36. The Coyotes’ Trey Burch-Manning, Tyler Flack and Tyler Peterson gave MSU fits, combining for 42 points and 22 rebounds.

Dec. 21 vs. Central Michigan: MSU’s Hall is fun to watch purely from a scoring standpoint — his 42-point outburst against Milwaukee was one for the books — but Central Michigan currently boasts the nation’s No. 1 scorer.

Guard Marcus Keene entered Monday averaging 30.8 points per game while shooting 51 percent from the floor and 43 percent from the arc. Throw fellow guard Braylon Rayson in the mix (17.6 ppg) and MSU’s inconsistent defensive execution faces a stiff test.

Dec. 29 vs. Weber State: The Wildcats aren’t the same team without Joel Bolomboy, the league’s all-time leading rebounder and a draft pick of the Utah Jazz, and they’re are off to a slow start with a 3-6 record.

Still, guard Jeremy Senglin can score with the best in the league and big men Zach Braxton and Kyndahl Hill will give MSU matchup problems underneath — matchups they exploited last season.

Dec. 31 vs. Idaho State: The Bengals started the year 1-8, and on paper this is MSU’s least-challenging game before the calendar flips to 2017. Still, ISU guard Ethan Telfair is as explosive as anyone in the league.

The Bengals have faced a difficult nonconference schedule, including games against New Mexico, Utah State, Texas Tech and Wisconsin.