BOISE, Idaho (AP) Robert Ford III scored 22 points and No. 5 seed Montana State beat third-seeded Montana 85-70 on Wednesday night to win the Big Sky Conference Tournament championship and an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.

Montana State (17-17) advances to the Big Dance for the third straight season and sixth time overall. Montana (23-11) was aiming for its 12th appearance after sweeping the Bobcats during the regular season.

Ford made 8 of 13 shots with two 3-pointers and 4 of 5 free throws for Montana State. He added nine rebounds, five steals and four assists. John Olmsted totaled 16 points and five rebounds off the bench. Eddie Turner III had 15 points, Brandon Walker 14 and Tyler Patterson 12.

Josh Vazquez had 20 points to lead the Grizzlies. Aanen Moody and Laolu Oke each scored 14. Brandon Whitney pitched in with 13 points and six rebounds.

Moody was fouled on a 3-pointer and made all three free throws, Josh Vazquez followed with a 3-pointer and Montana closed out the half on an 8-2 run to lead 38-32 at halftime.

Montana took an 11-point lead three times in the first three minutes of the second half, the last at 49-38 on Moody's layup.

Montana State trailed by seven when Turner scored in the paint and Ford and Patterson hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Bobcats up 51-50 with 12:25 remaining. Patterson hit two free throws and nailed a 3-pointer to help the Bobcats pull away from a 53-all tie to a 62-53 advantage with 8:30 left to play.

The run grew to 14-0 and Montana State led 67-53 before Moody's layup for the Grizzlies ended the spurt. First-year coach Matt Logie's Bobcats weren't threatened from there.

Weber State is the only other team to win three straight Big Sky tourney titles, doing so from 1978-80.


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