GAME NOTES: Two of the five teams in the Big Sky Conference tied for fifth place in the standings get together at Worthington Arena in Bozeman on Thursday night, as the Montana State Bobcats host the Idaho State Bengals.
Both teams have split their first 14 conference outings of 2013-14, with the Bengals reaching .500 on Monday with the help of a surprising 78-75 overtime win against Weber State, the top program in the Big Sky. ISU has won two straight and three of the last four overall, although the team has to be concerned about having captured just two road victories in 11 attempts this season.
Meanwhile, the Bobcats have been out of action since the weekend when they were taken down by Northern Colorado on the road, 83-73. The setback snapped a brief two-game win streak for a program that is now one game under .500 on the season overall.
The Bobcats lead the all-time series, 104-83, although ISU has won three of the last four encounters, including the first meeting of the season last month in Pocatello by a score of 69-64 at Reed Gym.
They had to go to overtime just three nights ago at home, but the results were still favorable for the Bengals as they captured the three-point win over Weber State. Chris Hansen scored a game-high 27 points, shooting a perfect 4- of-4 beyond the arc and 7-of-7 at the free-throw line, followed by Tomas Sanchez and Jeffrey Solarin with 12 and 10 points, respectively, as the team survived a meeting that featured 16 ties and 18 lead changes.
Hansen has boosted his scoring average to 17.3 ppg on the season, although in conference play he is coming in at 18.4 ppg thanks to 41.0 percent accuracy beyond the arc. Sanchez checks in with another 15.0 ppg on the campaign and he too has performed well out on the perimeter with 40.0 percent accuracy, but he is just as valued for his passing (102 assists) as he is point production. The other player to have started all 23 games is Andre Hatchett (14.3 ppg), as the team generates 71.5 ppg.
Montana State managed to make good on an impressive 52.1 percent from the field against the Bears on the road last weekend, but the problem for the Bobcats was that the defense allowed the hosts to knock down a staggering 80 percent from the floor in the second half, en route to the 10-point decision. Flavien Davis scored a team-best 17 points for the Bobcats, followed by fellow starters Marcus Colbert and Antonio Biglow with 14 and 13, respectively. Reserves Stephan Holm and Terrell Brown pitched in with 11 points apiece as well.
For a team that is scoring 69.9 ppg on the season, the only double-digit producer for the Bobcats is Davis with his 12.4 ppg. The team has struggled to find the right mix for the starting lineup in 2013-14, to the point where not a single player has started all 25 outings. In fact, only Paul Egwuonwu (9.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg) has started more than 19 outings this season, which is just one of the reasons why MSU is having a hard time finding consistent play.
Playing on the road certainly hasn't been a strong suit for the Bengals this season, but coming off that huge victory over Weber State has to be something the squad can build on.
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