POCATELLO — In Idaho State’s final home game of the season with the score tied and time winding down, the Bengals’ two best players did everything they needed to do.
Ethan Telfair and Geno Luzcando scored Idaho State’s final nine points to halt Montana State’s comeback and closed down Reed Gym with a 76-69 win.
The Bengals (15-13, 10-6 Big Sky Conference) enter their final two-game stretch before the league tournament in a four-way tie for third place, and Telfair and Luzcando couldn’t escape swarming fans after highlighting the final minutes of a back-and-forth matchup that nearly featured the Bobcats spoiling senior night.
MSU (12-16, 7-9) trailed by eight at the half and by as many as 10 after the break. The ’Cats slowly sliced into ISU’s lead and went up 67-66 at the 4:14 mark on a floater by freshman Tyler Hall. They didn’t score for another three minutes and change.
After Ben Wilson tied the score with a free throw, Luzcando bobbled a steal and threw the ball off the foot of MSU’s Marcus Colbert to give ISU the ball out of bounds.
Two possessions later, Telfair drilled a mid-range 2-pointer to give ISU the lead back and followed it with a dagger 3 from several steps beyond the arc.
The very next play, Luzcando finished a steal near midcourt with a two-handed jam to put the Bengals up seven and send Reed Gym into a frenzy with a minute to play. The Chilean sophomore capped the night with a pair of free throws to seal the win.
“I was glad that they came back. (There) was more emotion,” Luzcando said. “A better game. It was fun.”
Luzcando’s hustle steals and Telfair’s clutch jumpers froze Montana State’s momentum and swung it fully to Idaho State. The Bobcats shot 12 of 27 (44.4 percent) in the second half until Luzcando and Telfair took over. MSU finished by making one of its final four shots.
“It was a heck of a basketball game,” said ISU head coach Bill Evans. “Proud of my guys that they hung in there and kept working and stayed the course.”
The Bobcats’ second-half rally was sparked by Hall, MSU’s leading scorer and frontrunner for Big Sky Freshman of the Year. He scored 17 of his team-high 27 points in the second half, darting ISU’s matchup zone with drives to the hoop and deep 3-pointers. Hall finished the night by going 10 of 17 from the field and 5 of 11 from deep.
“No. 3 caught fire,” Telfair said. “He’s a killer. He’s a problem.”
Idaho State, the Big Sky’s best free-throw shooting team at 73.6 percent entering play, missed 10 freebies in the second half and finished the night 22 of 36 (61.1 percent) to keep the ’Cats comeback hopes intact.
But MSU also committed four turnovers in the final 3:36 and two in a 31-second stretch that led to ISU’s biggest buckets of the game.
Luzcando’s steal and score with a minute left put the game out of reach.
“I saw (the ball) falling, so I was like, ‘I need to get it,’” Luzcando said. “That’s my ball.”
“That’s Geno,” Telfair said. “We love Geno for that.”
The Bobcats’ defense stopped ISU’s penetration and forced the Bengals to bomb away from the arc. They went 10 of 23 for the game, led by Telfair’s 6-of-8 effort. He went 3 of 8 from 2-point range.
Telfair scored 31 points, his third consecutive 30-point effort and league-leading sixth of the season.
“Every team does that. Every team sits their big man in the lane and (when) we try to drive they try to suck in to keep me away from the basket,” Telfair said. “So I just try to make plays for my teammates. I trust for them to make shots, and I trust myself to shoot the long ball.
“(If) they’re gonna give it to me, I’m gonna knock their head off all night.”
“He’s pretty good,” Evans shrugged. “He’s pretty good.”
Montana State and Idaho State combined to shoot 50 3-pointers Saturday. The Bobcats entered the game second in the conference with a 37.9 percent clip from the arc. They went 8 of 27 (29.6 percent) against ISU, the league’s third-best team at defending 3-pointers.
ISU BREAKS 3-POINT RECORD
The Bengals set a new single-season school record for 3-pointers attempted Saturday. ISU shot 599 trey balls in the 2000-01 and 2006-07 seasons and have attempted 619 so far this season.
With two more made 3-pointers, the Bengals will tie the single-season 3-point record set in 2000-01 (237).
- ISU improved to 12-0 this season when shooting 45 percent or better from the field. The Bengals shot 45.8 percent Saturday.
- ISU’s nine turnovers matched a season low, and its 11 fouls marked a new season low.
- ISU improved to 8-2 this season when holding opponents under 70 points.
TELFAIR IN THE RECORD BOOKS
After Ethan Telfair’s line of 31 points, six rebounds, four assists, a steal and seven free throws, he sits at the following positions in Idaho State’s single-season record book:
- T-4th in steals (61)
- 7th in assists (151)
- T-13th in scoring (554)
- 6th in free throws made (178)