MOSCOW, Idaho – For one moment Thursday, it looked as if Harald Frey’s free throw with 13 seconds left would carom off the back iron.
But after bouncing straight up, the ball found enough rim on the descent to be contained within the cylinder and fell through the basket. Frey found nothing but net on his second attempt. It gave Montana State a 69-68 lead the Bobcats stretched to 71-68 in a taut victory over Idaho, in a game in which the lead changed hands 14 times.
“Harald Frey has been a terrific guard in this league for four straight years,” Idaho coach Zac Claus said.
Frey drew a backcourt foul from Trevon Allen to get to the line and give MSU the chance at a win.
Frey was MSU’s leading scorer with 22 points, including 15 in the second half.
Frey and Idaho’s Keyshaad Dixon engaged in a terrific first-half battle. Dixon dogged the quick Frey along the baseline, through the key and around screens as the Bobcats sought to get him free. Frey was held to seven points, though, and Idaho scratched out a 37-35 halftime lead.
In the second half, Frey had more success exploiting brief openings against the Vandals’ defensive help.
“He’s a terrific decision-maker,” Claus said. “He took advantage of it.”
Idaho’s Marquell Fraser matched Frey with 22 points to lead the Vandals (5-10, 1-3 Big Sky). He attacked the basket, hitting six field goals on an assortment of jump stops and Eurosteps, and he made 9 of 11 free throws.
In a series late in the second half that typified his game, Fraser ran down a long rebound from an Allen miss and saved it in front of the Vandals’ bench. The ball came back to him as play continued, and Fraser forced Frey to foul. He converted both shots of a 1-and-1 to bring the Vandals within a point (64-63) with 1:38 to go.
After Scott Blankey grabbed a defensive rebound for Idaho off a Mychael Paulo missed jumper, Fraser scored on a power move down the lane, drew a foul from Borja Fernandez, and hit the free throw to put Idaho up 66-64.
The Vandals got their last lead (68-67) with 14 seconds to play, after Allen saved a potential over-and-back loose ball at midcourt, drove the lane, was fouled and hit two free throws for the last of his 20 points.
Idaho continues to play around the rim and in the paint instead of focusing on 3-point shooting.
“That’s where we hang our hat,” Claus said.
MSU (9-7, 3-2) stopped a two-game skid. None of Idaho’s conference losses is by more than three points.
“We’ve been through it the last couple of games,” Fraser said. “Now we know little things pull off wins.
“This is just going to help us, once it comes to tournament time, to get those three wins (for a Big Sky championship).”