After Christmas, there is often a lot of cleaning up to do.
The Northern Arizona Lumberjacks tidied up in some areas of the game that have been keeping them from getting over the hump on Saturday, but 18 turnovers and missed free throws in crucial minutes doomed their chances of beating the Montana State Bobcats in an overtime nailbiter.
The Bobcats (9-6, 2-0 Big Sky) were held to 23-of-75 shooting from the field, but used the foul line to their advantage down the stretch on the way to overcoming a 15-point deficit and topping the Lumberjacks (3-12, 0-2) in the Skydome, 76-73.
"We guarded them," said Lumberjacks head coach Jack Murphy. "I mean, they shot 30 percent from the field. There was a reason we were in the game the whole way through and led for over 25 minutes, but we have to do a better job of defending without fouling."
With five seconds left in regulation, Montana's Tyler Hall hit three free throws after being fouled behind the arc to put his team up 64-63. Driving hard coast-to-coast, Northern Arizona's Torry Johnson found his way to the stripe, where he missed his second attempt with less than a second on the clock.
Montana went 25 for 30 at the line, whereas Northern Arizona was 18 of 29.
Hall, Montana's leading scorer entering the evening at 18.5 points per game, went 2 for 7 from the field in the first half and had the only 3-pointer of his team's total 11 tries going into the break. He ended his night with 16, but the Bobcats were carried by Keljin Blevin's career-high 26 points, 13 of which came in the first 20 minutes.
The Lumberjacks, who allowed 17 points off turnovers, went 5 for 9 at the foul line in the second half and 4 for 6 in the extra five minutes.
Chris Bowling recorded 16 points to go with four rebounds and three assists to lead the scoring for the Lumberjacks, who saw the Bobcats go on a 13-2 run to close out the final four minutes of the opening half and go into the break down 38-34 after trailing 32-17. Corey Brown notched 11 points and was a rebound short of a double-double, helping the Lumberjacks survive the ebbs and flows of the first half along with Bowling.
Brooks DeBisschop dished off the extra pass to Brown under the rim and then completed the three-point play go give his team the first of two 15-point advantages.
"The energy and effort were there. We played hard for 45 minutes," Murphy said. "The other night against Montana, I am not even sure we played hard for 20 minutes. To compete and win in this league, you have to go hard every time, and I think that's what the kids did tonight."
Johnson had 13 points and Gino Littles contributed 10, but JoJo Anderson, coming off a career-high 31-point game, ended up with just four, all coming from the foul line. Anderson attempted just three shots the entire game.
Northern Arizona, now on a two-game skid, clamped down on defense during its offensive slumps throughout most of the game. During a nearly two-minute offensive drought, Bowling slapped away a 3-point attempt from Hall.
"We knew if we would lay down they would have kept going and they have a great player in Tyler Hall, and he can just come out here and shoot lights-out too," Brown said. "So we had to make sure we came out, applied the pressure. Especially on defense, make sure we get back."
After struggling with transition defense and extra opportunities against Montana on Thursday, Northern Arizona and Montana State each ended Saturday with 15 second-chance points and six fast-break points.
Northern Arizona's Karl Harris, who added four points to the box score, turned his steal into an emphatic dunk on the other end to keep the Lumberjacks ahead 54-51 and get the crowd on its feet as the teams battled back and forth.
Blevins drained a 3 to start overtime, and another hit from long range from Harald Frey put the nail in Northern Arizona's coffin, as Montana State, going 4 for 4 in OT on free throws, went ahead 74-69 with :43 left to play.
Northern Arizona moves on from its two-game homestand and will face Weber State Thursday in Ogden, Utah.
Murphy knows his team will need the improvements to increase and be more consistent as his team moves into the new year.
"Everybody was in on it, we're growing moving forward," Murphy said.