BOISE, Idaho (AP)RaeQuan Battle scored 25 points and Montana State beat Northern Arizona 85-78 Wednesday night to clinch its second consecutive Big Sky Conference title and an automatic bid to the 2023 NCAA Tournament.
Darius Brown II added 11 of his 15 points in the second half and Jubrile Belo scored 14 points for No. 2 seed Montana State (25-9), which has won eight consecutive games and 13 of its last 14. Caleb Fuller made 4 of 6 from the field and finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.
The Bobcats, who lost 97-62 to Texas Tech in the first round last year, are 0-4 all time in the NCAA Tournament.
Jalen Cone converted a three-point play to cap a 12-6 spurt and pull the Lumberjacks within five points – as close as they had been since late in the first half – 70-65 with 4:50 to play but Battle was fouled as he hit a 3-pointer from the right corner 24 seconds later, made the and-1 free throw and Northern Arizona got no closer.
Northern Arizona (12-23) went into the game having won three games in a row – its longest win streak of the season, including a last-second win over No. 1 seed Eastern Washington in the second round – and five of its last six. The Lumberjacks made their first championship game appearance since advancing to three straight from 2006-08 and its 10th overall.
Carson Towt had 16 points on 8-of-11 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds for the Lumberjacks before he fouled out with about three minutes to play. Xavier Fuller scored 15 points with eight rebounds and three steals, while Cone and Oakland Fort finished with 12 points apiece.
The Bobcats shot 50% (24 of 48) from the field, including 6 of 10 from 3-point range, and made 31 of 37 (84%) from the free-throw line. It was Montana State’s third game this season with at least 30 made free throws.
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