The Idaho State Bengals go for a fifth straight win when they host the Montana Grizzlies in a Big Sky Conference game on Thursday night. The Bengals (12-7) are currently 7-3 in conference play and sitting in fourth in the league standings, one game behind third-place Weber State.
This will be the first of two straight games between these two schools, with the second one being played Saturday afternoon in the same venue. Big Sky teams are playing two-game series against each other as part of the effort to limit travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Montana enters this one on a three-game losing streak, dropping two to Eastern Washington last weekend. The Grizzlies (9-12) are 5-9 against conference foes this season, putting them in ninth place in the Big Sky standings.
If you’re going to bet online on this contest, Montana is a 2½-point favorite, with the over/under set at 125½.
Needing A Win
The Grizzlies are having trouble getting a win these days, so much so that they just added a game on Sunday with Yellowstone Christian College of the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA). The two previously played in December, with Montana winning by 60 points.
The Montana defense could use the confidence boost, as the Grizzlies have given up 90.3 points per game during their current three-game losing streak. On the season, Montana allows just 67.6 points a game, but that has gone out the window lately.
Offensively, sophomore forward Kyle Owens leads the way, averaging 11.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Unfortunately, he’s hit a cold spell, scoring in single digits in three of the past five games. In two games against Eastern Washington last weekend, he averaged 4.5 points per game on 4-of-11 shooting.
Freshman guard Robby Beasley III is averaging 10.3 points after a big weekend against Eastern Washington. Beasley had a career-high 25 points in the first meeting with the Eagles, then came back with 16 in the second game. He was 6-of-12 from 3-point range combined in the two contests.
Guard Cameron Parker leads the Big Sky Conference with 5.1 assists per game and is second with a 2.6 assist-to-turnover ratio. He notched a double-double in Saturday’s loss to Eastern Washington, finishing with 12 points and 10 assists.
Back To Work
The Bengals made college basketball news as they have had 10 days off due to their two games against Montana State last weekend being canceled. They did pick up a non-conference victory over George Fox in their last outing, but now they need to focus on closing the Big Sky conference season with a flourish.
To do that, Idaho State will rely on its defense, which holds opponents to just 60.5 points per game, ranking eighth in Division I. The Bengals also rank 22nd in the country for field-goal percentage defense, holding opponents to 39.8% shooting from the floor.
Offensively, senior guard Tarik Cool leads the charge, averaging 14.6 points per game and hitting a team-high 35 3-pointers. Junior guard Robert Ford III chips in with 10.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.1 steals per game. The biggest problem with that duo is turnovers, as both average over three per game.
Another area of strength for the Bengals is on the boards, as six different players are grabbing more than three rebounds a game. Idaho State grabs over seven rebounds more than its opponent on average.
Montana is slumping at the wrong time, likely ending any chance it has at advancing in the conference tournament and claiming the automatic bid to NCAA March Madness. The Grizzlies need to turn it around in a hurry, but taking on a defense of Idaho State isn’t going to make that task easy.
The Bengals likely appreciated the rest they got from the 10-day break between games, but they also can’t be sluggish in their first game back, or the Grizzlies will jump them. It might take a little while, but Idaho State should be able to pull away for the win in this one at home.
When making your college basketball picks, put your money on the Bengals to win and cover.