BOISE, Idaho – Battle of RaeQuan didn’t appreciate the push-ups his mother Jacquie made him do for every missed free throw when he was growing up.
“Five or 10 for every miss,” he said, “and I missed a lot back then.”
The pressure and hard work paid off for Battle and the Bobcats on Friday when Montana State defeated Weber State 69-66 in the Big Sky Conference Tournament semifinals to advance to Saturday’s title game at 18 hours. Battle led the Bobcats with 17 points and made 13 of 14 free throws.
“He’s a great player,” said MSU coach Danny sprinkle noted.
Weber State took an eight-point lead in the first five minutes of the game “and it was like literally getting the whole 40 minutes back,” Sprinkle said. Weber State held on to a six-point halftime lead after shooting 58 percent before intermission, hitting five of its nine triples. Koby McEwen scored 10 in the first half.
But the Montana state guard Xavier Bishop, tasked with guarding McEwen for much of the evening, was even better. He scored 12 points in the first half and hit three long three-pointers. The Bobcats shot 43% in the first half.
Things changed quickly in the second half. “These guys kept fighting,” Sprinkle said, “especially in the second half. I thought (Amine Adamou) gave us an amazing start. He got aggressive and he got a few post touches, he put that thing on the rim.”
Adamu scored MSU’s first four points in the second half, Great Osobor and Sam Lecholat each added a bucket, then Adamu scored again to cut Weber’s lead to 43-41. When the Wildcats stretched it to 48-41, Adamu hit a driving layup and Bishop drained a three to help the Cats maintain contact. A free throw from Osobor tied the game, and after a field goal and a free throw from JJ Overton, Adamu hit a three-pointer to tie the score again.
The game remained tight midway through the second half minutes, but when Battle was fouled on a three-point attempt, he drained three free throws to push the Bobcats into a 62-60 lead. . They would never hang around again.
McEwen tied the game with two free throws at the two-minute mark, but on MSU’s next possession, Osobor’s layup gave the Cats a 66-64 lead. Each team got a stoppage, then Battle was fouled on a rebound with 25 seconds left. His charity shots pushed Montana State’s lead to four points, 68-64.
Dillon Jones turned an offensive rebound into a layup with 14 seconds left, and Battle left the door cracked by converting one of two free throws. Weber State’s final possession was frantic. McEwen missed a trey, but Jones caught the board. He missed a trey, and as the ball was kicked out without possession, the clock expired.
“It’s who we are, we’ve been in games like this all season from Colorado to now,” Battle said. “We’re kind of used to it. That’s why we plan these games, as far as the playoffs go, we want to be ready if it comes down to the wire.”
The resilience of his team impressed Sprinkle. “What a brave victory against a very good team and a great attacking team too,” he said. “When games had to be made, we made them, and thank goodness the clock ran out.”
A slow start on Friday wasn’t the only battle overcome this week, he said. “I got sick on Sunday, it was pretty bad, I was throwing up a lot, but it’s not holding me back. My mum raised me as a warrior so when the team needs me I’m ready to go. We have a great staff, Brett (Ritter) helped me, he helped me a lot, our coach (athletic), and we support each other.”
The Bobcats increased their record to 26-7 with the win, more wins than any Montana state team except the Golden Bobcats (36-2 in 1927-28 and 1928-29; 30 -7 in 1926-27), and qualifying for the Big Sky Championship for the second straight season accomplished something no previous MSU team had. The Bobcats will face Portland State or Northern Colorado on Saturday at 6 p.m. in a game televised by ESPNU.