BOZEMAN, Mont. – Montana State survived the second half comeback by Northern Arizona and prevailed in overtime with an 83-79 victory over the Lumberjacks.
"The defense in the first half is not what we are capable of playing, like it was in the second half," said Head Coach Jack Murphy. "It has a lot to do with us. They are a good team and an athletic team but they were given too many open looks and easy passes and they moved the ball wherever they wanted to in the first half."
Senior guard Gabe Rogers scored a game-high 29 points behind a career-high tying seven three-pointers. He hit two free throws in the final seconds to force overtime. Rogers was 9-of-16 from the field and 7-of-12 beyond the arc with four free throws.
"Gabe is playing at a high level and I say that almost every game now," said Murphy. "I don't know if I have been around a guy that has been on a streak like Gabe is on right now."
Rogers has scored in double figures in 15 straight games, while scoring 20 or more points in 11 of the last 13 games overall.
Montana State scored the first two baskets of the extra period before Jordyn Martin was fouled and hit a pair of free throws. After a basket by Paul Egwuonwu, Michael Dunn hit two free throws to cut the lead back to two points.
MSU then ran 30 seconds off the clock before Flavien Davis was fouled. He made both to extend the lead back to four points. NAU turned the ball over and MSU sealed the game at the line with two free throws by Paul Bigelow, who finished with 27 points. NAU got a late basket by Martin as the Bobcats won the key game.
NAU was just 1-for-8 in the overtime period, losing for the fourth time in five overtime contests this season.
"We missed a lot of layups and shots right at the rim," said Murphy. "We just have to put those in. We did a good job at foul line tonight hitting 15 of 18. We just have to be able put those layups in during overtime."
The Lumberjacks shot 49 percent for the game. Montana State had four players in double figures and finished at 46 percent from the field.
NAU opened the second half looking to cut into the lead, posting a 9-0 run behind five points by Saldivar. After the Lumberjacks took the lead, Montana State rallied as the teams battled for most of the second half.
"We did a better job in the second half and they didn't shoot as well," said Murphy. "They shot 60 percent in the first half and 30 percent in the second half and there is a reason for that."
The game was tight for the first 10 minutes as the Lumberjacks led four different times but not by more than a basket. NAU turned the ball over seven times over the final eight minutes of the half as the Bobcats built a double digit lead. MSU closed the half on an 11-4 run to lead 47-35 at the break.
Both teams shot the ball well from the field. The Bobcats shot 60 percent from the field and made six three-pointers to boost their effort. NAU shot 54 percent and got strong efforts from Rogers, who scored 13 points, and Saldivar, who hit a pair of triples for six points. Jacobsen and Gaellan Bewernick also notched six points in the first half.
Saldivar became the eighth player in Big Sky Conference history to record 500 assists in the first half and moved into sixth place all-time, finishing with five assists in the game.
Montana State's Xavier Blount, the leading scorer for the Bobcats, missed the game after suffering a season-ending injury in practice on Wednesday.
The Lumberjacks take on Big Sky leading Montana on Saturday in Missoula at 7:05 p.m. Northern Colorado clinched the fourth berth into the Big Sky Tournament with a 66-58 victory over Southern Utah.
"We have nothing to lose," said Murphy. "They are the conference champion and were picked preseason No. 1. We were not supposed to be here. We should have fun with it and give it what we have."
NAU enters the final regular season game at 8-11 in Big Sky play in a tie with Southern Utah and Sacramento State. The Hornets lost at Montana 63-52 Thursday night. NAU would advance if the three teams finish in tie or NAU is in a tie with Sacramento State. If NAU and Southern Utah finish tied, the Thunderbirds would advance to the tournament.
The game can be heard on the Lumberjack Radio Network on 105.1 FM The Big Talker.