KENNEWICK — Washington State coach Ernie Kent had warned everyone to not be fooled by Montana State’s 2-6 record.
“They’re a good team,” said Kent. “They’ve just had a tough schedule.”
The Bobcats held off Washington State for a 95-90 win Sunday at the Toyota Center.
The game was in Kennewick to give Cougars fans and alumni in the Tri-Cities area a chance to see the men’s basketball team in person as students in Pullman approach dead week and final exams.
What fans saw was a spirited Montana State (3-6) team that sank 16 of 32 3-pointers — what Kent would saw as the difference in the game.
Well, that, and MSU guard Harald Frey.
Frey had 31 points and 10 assists to lead the Bobcats. Coming in, he wasn’t a major factor in the Cougars’ defensive game plan.
“He wasn’t one of their big-time scorers,” said Kent. “But he played extremely well.”
It was Frey who provided the key run for Montana State in the final 7 minutes of play.
After Kirby’s layup gave Montana State a 72-71 lead with nine minutes left, Frey scored 13 points, had three assists, and grabbed a key offensive rebound in the final minute, allowing the Bobcats to chew up more time.
“Everything is about the team for Harald,” Montana State coach Brian Fish said. “He’d been struggling so far this season. But he’s put more work into his game than most of our guys.”
Frey made 6 of 10 from 3-point range — five of those in the first half, and most were wide-open attempts.
“I understand that,” said Frey. “I haven’t been playing well this season. But I have been putting in a lot of work. Tonight I had a lot of chances because you let the game flow to you.”
Tyler Hall, MSU’s leading scorer this season, added 24 points, while Laden Ricketts had 18 and Devin Kirby 10.
WSU (5-3) was led by Robert Franks’ 25 points, while CJ Elleby added 20. Carter Skaggs came off the bench to add 14 points.
Montana State shot 52 percent from the field and made 15 of 19 from the free-throw line.
The Bobcats opened a 22-10 lead just eight minutes in but Washington State grinded out key possessions to get back into the game. The Cougars trailed until Skaggs sank a 3-pointer goal with 1:31 left to give WSU a 40-38.
Hall made a runner from near half court at the buzzer to make it 43-all at the break. His 3-pointer midway through the second half broke Larry Chanay’s school record of 2,034 career points set from 1956-60. Hall’s sixth and final 3 of the game came about five minutes later, giving him 2,038 points and 346 made 3-pointers — breaking the Big Sky Conference’s career mark of 345 by Jeremy Senglin of Weber State (2013-17).
Franks scored 18 points in the second half to keep the Cougars in it until Frey went on his run.
“We leaned on Robert to get us back in the game,” said Kent. “But the thing is we needed to get some (defensive) stops, and we didn’t.”
Montana State: Sunday’s game against the Cougars was the Bobcats’ only contest against a Pac-12 opponent this season. … MSU begins Big Sky Conference play on Dec. 29 at Southern Utah. . Keljin Blevins, the team’s No. 2 scorer, at 11.5 points per game, is the cousin of Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard. However, Blevins did not play Sunday. Fish says he has a lower leg injury. … Fish, in his fifth season leading the Bobcats, was an assistant at Oregon before joining MSU.
Washington State: Montana State is the second consecutive Big Sky Conference team the Cougars have played this season. They beat the University of Idaho 90-70 on Dec. 5 in Pullman. … The Cougars will still have five non-conference games before they open Pac-12 play at Washington on Jan. 5. … Franks and Elleby once again scored 20 or more points for the Cougs. That’s six of seven games this season for Franks, and three of the last four for Elleby.
After finals week, the Cougars next play host to Rider on Monday, Dec. 17.