Bobcats falter in closing minutes of back-to-back losses

It was groundhog’s week for the Montana State men’s basketball team for their home tilts against the University of Idaho and the University of Eastern Washington. In both games the Bobcats created significant early second half leads before going through long scoring droughts and losing in the closing minutes.

On Thursday, Feb. 5, the Bobcats faced the Idaho Vandals in the first conference matchup between the teams in nearly two decades. The first half was a high scoring affair with both teams shooting 14 of 27 from the field, ending with the Cats up 39-38. The Bobcats got hot out of the gate in the second half, sprinting to an 11 point lead with 15 minutes left to play. However, the Bobcat shooters went ice cold down the stretch, hitting only 10 of their 32 shots in the second half while the Vandals shot an even 50 percent, pulling them to victory by an 80-71 margin.

Junior forward Danny Robison was a bright spot in the loss, posting his first career double-double as a Bobcat with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Junior guard Marcus Colbert, coming off the bench, scored 13 points and senior forward Eric Norman, despite shooting only 1-7, dished out a career high eight assists.

The story was much the same Saturday afternoon against the Eagles of Eastern Washington. Once again, the Bobcats battled their opponents to a tight game at the half, this time with the Eagles leading 35-34. The defensive battle had both teams working hard for every point, but the Bobcats gained an eight point lead heading into the final 15 minutes of the game. The Cats couldn’t seem to buy a basket in the closing minutes, shooting just over 20 percent in the second half. The biggest difference was at the free throw line, with the Cats only hitting 3-9 from the charity stripe while EWU was 17-29. It was a six point game with under a minute to go, but the Bobcats couldn’t create open looks to close the gap in the waning seconds, eventually falling 61-51.

Colbert and Robison continued their recent run of good form, leading the team with 15 and 14 points, respectively. Norman had another rough shooting night, only hitting two of his eight shots from the field, but once again created opportunities for teammates with seven assists and snagged 15 rebounds.

Despite what may have been two of his best games as a Bobcat, Robison wasn’t satisfied. “I’m never focused on my individual performance in any game, I just want our team to succeed. It’s been tough being so close in every game and coming up short, but I would give anything for my team to get some more wins and have a little more success.”

Robison went on to say that he believes the team is still working hard and that the wins will follow.

“I think we have developed a culture this year by playing as hard as we can and leaving it all on the table. We haven’t been able to put it all together for 40 minutes which has been tough but we have to continue to keep our heads up and play as hard as we can for the rest of the season.”

The losses continue to pile up for the Bobcats in this rebuilding season, having dropped to 4-19 and 1-10 in Big Sky Conference play. The Cats have looked competitive in nearly all of their games, but falter down the stretch, perhaps due to their lack of reliable bench scoring leading to fatigue later in the game when the minutes start to pile up. The Cats hit the road this week in search of an elusive second win, first on Thursday, Feb. 12 against Northern Colorado and on Feb. 14 against North Dakota.