MSU v Sacramento State Mens Basketball (copy)

Montana State head coach Danny Sprinkle takes a knee while watching his team play against Sacramento State on Dec. 28 at Worthington Arena.

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After Portland State’s Holland Woods sunk the game-winning shot Saturday, Montana State had one final chance.

With 2.4 seconds remaining, Bobcats head coach Danny Sprinkle called timeout. MSU was set to inbound from under its own basket and had mere seconds to move the ball 94 feet.

Freshman Borja Fernandez threw a short pass to senior point guard Harald Frey along the sideline. Frey took two dribbles and launched a desperation shot from beyond halfcourt as the buzzer sounded. The play was similar to Frey’s halfcourt buzzer beater against UNC Greensboro in November, except this time the ball missed wide of the rim.

MSU (9-8, 3-3 Big Sky) dropped to 4-2 in one-possession games with the loss Saturday. But the tight contests have been beneficial for Sprinkle in his first year as a head coach.

“It seems like every one” is close, Sprinkle said.

In MSU’s last five games, the average point differential is 4.2 points. Those close finishes, albeit stressful, have provided ample learning opportunities as he navigates a full season in his new role.

“I wish I’d have done a better job, first off, defensively, to get the ball out of (Woods’) hands and be better there and then to give them something better offensively to get a shot,” Sprinkle said. “But you live and learn, just like the kids are living and learning.”

MSU healing up during week off

The Bobcats suffered the loss Saturday against Portland State and don’t play again until a week later, this upcoming Saturday against Eastern Washington.

With no games for a week, Sprinkle said he wants to use the time for his players to heal up. He planned to give players off Sunday and Monday. With spring semester classes beginning Monday as well as several players dealing with injuries, he mentioned the benefits of the break at this point in the season.

He also pointed out, 17 games into the year, a mental break from basketball could be beneficial as well. The Bobcats opened Big Sky play with six games in 15 days, making this break a welcomed one.

Redshirt junior forward Devin Kirby has missed the last seven games due to a “pretty bad bone bruise” in his knee, Sprinkle said, and his timetable for return remains unknown. Kirby was limited in practice last week, and Sprinkle said Saturday that Kirby has been doing more in therapy. He described the situation as “a day-to-day deal.”

Senior guard Ladan Ricketts has continued dealing with a nagging calf injury throughout the season. Frey has played the last three games with tape on his right shoulder and has also been on the court for 119 of the 120 minutes in those contests. Sophomore center Jubrile Belo has also been banged up, according to Sprinkle.

When asked what he’s looking forward to this week, the head coach said, “getting guys healthy.”

MSU v Portland State Men's Hoops

Montana State sophomore Jubrile Belo takes the ball towards the hoop during a game against Portland State on Saturday at Worthington Arena.

Belo attracting double teams

A potential trend is how opponents defend Belo going forward. On Saturday, the Vikings doubled the 6-foot-9 center when he caught passes near the basket.

On one of MSU’s first possessions, Bobcat coaches identified the defensive look and called for teammates to dive cut from the perimeter through the paint. Belo recorded a season-high three assists against PSU.

This season, Belo is averaging 12 points and 5.5 rebounds. He’s established himself as a dangerous interior presence, and despite only being six games into Big Sky play, he could be considered among the top in the conference in that role.

He went toe-to-toe with Sacramento State’s Joshua Patton, another top center, on Dec. 28 when Belo attacked inside with key buckets to help the Bobcats pull away in the victory.

Belo will be tested in MSU’s next game as Eastern Washington boasts two of the conference’s best posts in Kim Aiken Jr. and Mason Peatling. Aiken (15.8 points and 10.7 rebounds) is the only player in the conference averaging a double-double.

In back-to-back losses earlier this month, Frey was held to five and 14 points. When he’s limited, Sprinkle said, Belo’s role could expand. Facing PSU’s double team, Belo finished with 10 points and seven rebounds but fouled out at a critical juncture with 33 seconds left.

“We got to do a better job getting the ball into Jubrile,” Sprinkle said. “That’s going to be our focus because he can be a threat down there. We have to make guys guard us inside.”

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Paul Schwedelson can be reached at pschwedelson@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.