Montana State (2-5) at Northern Arizona (3-5)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Monday, December 17, 8:35 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Walkup Skydome (11,230) -- Flagstaff, Arizona. Television: FSN-AZ+, FCS. Home Record: Montana State 2-2, NAU 1-1. Away Record: Montana State 0-3, NAU 1-3. Neutral Record: Montana State 0-0, NAU 1-1. Conference Record: Montana State 0-0, NAU 0-0. Series Record: NAU leads, 46-43.
GAMES NOTES: Both the Montana State Bobcats and the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks will play their Big Sky Conference opener on Monday when the two teams collide at Walkup Skydome.
The Bobcats have struggled in the early going and are coming into this game with an overall record of 2-5. Montana State did manage to earn a win last time out by dropping NAIA foe Montana Tech. The win capped off a three-game homestand for the Bobcats and ended a four-game losing streak. Last year Montana State was a team in the middle of the pack in the Big Sky as it finished with a record of 7-9. The Bobcats face another Big Sky opponent on the road in their next game against Sacramento State.
Northern Arizona should be plenty rested for this matchup as the Lumberjacks have been off the court since a 92-86 loss in overtime to Loyola Marymount on Dec. 5. That setback dropped the Lumberjacks to 3-5 overall and thwarted the team's attempt to earn back-to-back wins for the first time this year. Getting back to league play may not be a recipe for a success for Northern Arizona as the Lumberjacks came in dead last in the conference last season with a record of just 1-15. Northern Arizona will face Montana at home in its next contest.
Led by 15 points from Jamie Stewart, Montana State was easily able to take down Montana Tech in its last time out. The Bobcats forced 26 turnovers, including 18 on steals and netted 51.6 percent of their shots from the floor. Stewart was especially active in the game hitting 6-of-9 shots from the field, collecting six rebounds and an assist. Xavier Blount also scored in double figures for the fifth straight game with 13 points.
Stewart and Blount have really established themselves as the go-to players for Montana State recently. Blount (14.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg) missed the first two games of the season but has been strong in the five games he has played. Stewart (11.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg) had a slow start but has scored in double figures in the last three games including a 22-point effort against San Jose State. Antonio Biglow (12.6 ppg, 3.6 apg) is also scoring in double figures, while serving as the lead facilitator. However, Biglow needs to improve on his efficiency as he hits on only 37.2 percent of his shots from the field. As a team Montana State is scoring a healthy 72.9 points per game on just 40.3 percent shooting but is getting burned for 75.3 points, while teams shoot at a 49.0 percent clip.
Northern Arizona trailed by as many as 18 points against Loyola Marymount but clawed its way back by shooting 63.0 percent from the field in the second half to earn a 77-75 lead with just over two minutes remaining. After the Lions tied the game 77-77 on a pair of free throws, Gabe Rogers nailed a 3-pointer to put Northern Arizona up 80-77. However Anthony Ireland put in a 3-pointer for the Lions on the next possession and the game went to overtime. The Lions scored the first five points of overtime and the Lumberjacks were unable to recover.
After such a disastrous season last year, Northern Arizona desperately needed an infusion of new talent and the Lumberjacks were fortunate enough to get that in Dewayne Russell. The freshman guard is the seventh highest scoring rookie in the country this season as he puts in 17.1 points per game. Russell is also the lead facilitator (3.9 apg). Rogers (16.4 ppg) was a holdover from last season when he also scored in double figures. Rogers is scoring at a high level and has put in 20 or more points three times this season but has needed a large number of shots to do so as he connects on only 32.4 percent of his field goal attempts. There is a lack of scoring options after those two though with no other player scoring more than seven points per game. Limited scoring options along with weak defense has lead the Lumberjacks to be outscored by nearly 10 points per game as Northern Arizona allows 76.8 points per game.
Both of these teams rely heavily on a pair of contributors meaning that it will really come down to which team has the superior supporting cast. Players like Casen Coleman (9.1 ppg) and Flavien Davis (8.7 ppg) may not impress with their numbers but give Montana State more versatility on both ends.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Montana State 70, Northern Arizona 62
12/17 10:39:40 ET