Montana State kicks off 2022-23 season at Grand Canyon

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BOZEMAN, Mont. – The highly anticipated 2022-23 season for the Montana State men’s basketball team begins Monday, Nov. 7 as the Bobcats travel south to take on Grand Canyon University.

The game is scheduled to start at 7:00 PM MT and it will be streamed live on ESPN+. Live stream and live stats links can be found on the Montana State Men’s Basketball Team Schedule page on msubobcats.com.

Monday’s meeting will be the third between the two teams and the second time Sprinkle has coached against GCU. The Lopes have a 2-0 advantage over the Bobcats in the all-time series, the last meeting being a 69-56 GCU win at Phoenix on Nov. 19, 2019.

The season opener is one of the best mid-major matchups across the country, as the Bobcats went 27-8 in their Big Sky Championship-winning season and the Lopes went 23-8. This season, GCU has turned to the transfer portal to revamp its roster, which is led by Jovan Blacksher Jr. – a two-time All-Western Athletic Conference selection who has averaged 15.8 points and 4 .8 assists per game last season.

“Blacksher is one of the best point guards in the country,” the Montana State head coach said. Danny sprinkle, who is entering his fourth year at the helm of the program, said. “He’s played a lot of college basketball and seen a lot of it, so we’ll have our hands full trying to stop him. Presbyterian transfer Ray Harrison is a very dynamic player who can score the dribble and shoot. They have a a lot of good plays and it’s a Pac-12 caliber team.”

Montana State has one exhibition game under its belt: a 56-49 win over Mick Durham’s Montana State University Billings Yellowjackets on Oct. 30.

“It was great for us to have a close game,” Sprinkle said. “You learn a bit more about your team when you play in a tight game like that. I’d rather play that game than a 40 or 50 point blowout.”

During the defense-heavy competition, several bright spots for the Bobcats were RaeQuan Battle scoring, Darius Brown II defense and crafty reads, as well as Great Osobor’s post play.

“We have to keep letting them lead and improve and be consistent every day,” Sprinkle said. “We need that every day from Darius – to have a defensive mindset, to make plays and to be tough and brave. And we’ll need RaeQuan to use his athleticism at advantage. But these guys have both improved.”

This consistent play across the board will be essential if MSU is to repeat itself as Big Sky Conference champions.

Last season, the Bobcats had arguably their best season of the modern era. MSU went 27-8, which included an unbeaten streak in January, a 13-1 home record and a program-record 16 conference wins. The Bobcats’ 9-6 road mark was the first time in several years the program exceeded .500 in the regular season, as Montana last had a record above .500 on the road in 2001-02 when that team went 6-1.

Cut the Bobcats’ 27-8 record in any way, but the conclusion is the same – the 2021-22 season was a banner year.

And the expectations for this season are very high.

Earlier this fall, MSU was picked to repeat as the conference champion in the Big Sky Conference preseason media and coaching polls. Additionally, senior forward Jubrile Belo was named the Big Sky Preseason MVP. Last season, the London, England native averaged one of only three players in Big Sky conference history to win conference MVP and defensive MVP awards in the same season. last year. Belo averaged 12.8 points (on 57.9 percent shooting) and 6.7 rebounds per game while also leading the Big Sky with 60 blocks. Entering his senior season, Belo has over 1,100 career points, 500 rebounds and 120 blocks.

The Bobcats will replace three starters from last season: first-team All-Big Sky point guard Xavier Bishop, honorable mention selection Amin Adamu and Abdul Mohamed. Bishop led the team with 13.9 points and 4.7 assists per game and earned Big Sky Tournament MVP honors after averaging 15.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists in the Bobcats playoffs. Adamu, a 1,000-point scorer, averaged 11.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game for Montana State; while Mohamed was the team’s second best rebounder with 6.5 boards per game.

Aside from Belo, the other returning starter from last season is Tyler Patterson, who averaged 7.1 points in 22.7 minutes per game last year. The sniper winger made 37.6 percent of his three-point shots and led the team with 64 three-pointers.

Big Sky co-reserve of the year RaeQuan Battle will be looking to improve on his strong first season at Bozeman. The Washington transfer made the most of his 17.3 minutes per game, averaging a productive 8.5 points and 2.4 rebounds while coming off the bench in all 35 games.

Other returnees from the 2021-22 roster this season are Carter Ash, Nick Gazelas, Great Osobor, Sam Lecholat and Patrick McMahon. Osobor became an ideal replacement for Belo averaging 6.0 points and 4.2 rebounds in 15 minutes per game while playing five. Gazelas provided the shot from the bench, while Lecholat, a true freshman last season, saw time at the forefront. Ash and McMahon both played reserve roles in the backcourt; both appear to have bigger roles this season.

The Bobcats have five newcomers to the roster, including real freshmen Jed Miller and Luca Colceag, as well as three transfers who have been key contributors to their previous teams: Darius Brown II (CSUN), Robert Ford III (Idaho State) and Caleb Fuller (UC Davis).

Brown II and Ford III will look to fill the point guard void left by All-Big Sky selection Xavier Bishop, who graduated last spring. Brown II averaged 9.2 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists during four seasons at CSUN, the most recent of which was cut short due to injury. Brown II was an All-Big West selection during the 2020-21 season, when he averaged 10.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game.

Ford III is a familiar face for the Bobcats after transferring from the Big Sky Idaho State program. Ford III was an honorable mention all-conference selection as a junior in 2020-21; he played nine games last season before being redshirted through injury. Fuller rounds out the newcomers after averaging 7.8 points and 3.1 rebounds per game in his four years as an Aggie.

From there, the Bobcats will embark on a tough two-game road trip to Long Beach State (November 13) and #21 Oregon (November 15). The Bobcats won’t play their first regular season home game until Friday, Nov. 18, when they host Warner Pacific.

“Our schedule is brutal,” Sprinkle said. “It will be a great test for our guys to play in some of the best environments in the country against some of the best players in the country. We will have to be able to handle adversity. I’m interested in seeing how we react and seeing what the leadership intensifies.”

Single game tickets and season tickets for all home games are available at msubobcats.com/tickets.

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