Montana State's basketball team came to town with a .300 winning percentage and five losses in its last six games. It seemed to be the perfect patsy for Loyola Marymount, which returned home looking for a cure to a three-game losing streak.
But Montana State had other ideas and, on the strength of fine play by guards Tony Hampton and Shann Ferch down the stretch, escaped Gersten Pavilion with a 72-71 victory Friday night before a crowd of 1,050.
Hampton, a cool senior, scored 27 points, including 12 of 14 free throws in the second half. Ferch, a freshman starting his first game as a guard, added 16 points.
Loyola guard Keith Smith scored 27 points, 21 in the second half as Loyola fought back from a 15-point deficit. Forrest McKenzie had 14 points, leaving him 16 short of the Loyola career scoring record.
Montana State enters Big Sky Conference play with a 4-7 record. Loyola (6-6) plays two more nonconference home games next week.
Montana State dictated the pace in the first half, taking a 31-29 lead.
With Hampton and Ferch leading the way, the Bobcats steadily built the lead to 50-35 with 11:12 left before Loyola finally got in gear. The Lions went on a nine-point tear, with Smith scoring seven in the streak, and finally tied the score at 65-65 on Smith's 15-foot jumper with 2:10 left.
But Hampton answered with a spinning drive down the lane, and Tom Domako added a free throw. Smith hit another long jumper for Loyola, but Hampton made two free throws, and Clamon Jacobs added two more to ice the game.
Loyola was outscored from the line, 24-5.
The Lions played without center Vic Lazzaretti, who has a sprained ankle. Forward Mark Armstrong fouled out trying to fill in at the pivot. Still, the loss and the four-game losing streak have left Coach Paul Westhead puzzled. "We're at that stage where we've got to retool, repair, re-evaluate and recharge," he said.
Westhead said the free-throw differential "has been happening lately. That's very uncharacteristic of a running team. It's usually the other way around.