(Editor’s Note: MSU Billings release)

BILLINGS – Staying alive in the battle for a berth into the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Championships, Seattle Pacific University held onto its lead late and outlasted Montana State University Billings 75-70 Thursday night at Alterowitz Gym.

The Falcons used a career-high 25 points from Gavin Long and 22 more from Joe Rasmussen to win a tightly-contested game from start-to-finish. SPU moved to 12-14 overall and is now half a game behind MSUB in seventh place in the GNAC at 8-10.

MSUB was led by Zack Lessinger, who scored a dozen points and added eight rebounds in 23 strong minutes off the bench. The redshirt freshman nailed the second of two of his 3-pointers with 3:24 to go in regulation, and brought the ‘Jackets within a single point down 67-66. The ‘Jackets had spent the majority of the second half whittling a 10-point deficit at the break down to just one after the trey by Lessinger, but the home team couldn’t get over the hump. Sven Jeuschede had a chance to give MSUB the lead with 2:58 remaining, but his three from the corner rattled out and Long followed with a pair of foul shots to make the score 69-66.

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It was the first of six free throws the Falcons converted the rest of the game, while MSUB made just 1 of 3 shots in the final 2:30 of play.

“We are a little bit disappointed with the result tonight, but I am proud of how hard the guys played and I thought we were well-prepared,” said MSUB head coach Jamie Stevens. “We did a decent job defensively, especially in the second half, and we guarded well enough to win. We just couldn’t get in a rhythm on the offensive end. This time in the year, it’s about making plays and shots, and we just didn’t do enough of that tonight on the offensive side of the court.”

The Yellowjackets shot 41.9 percent from the field overall (26-for-62), and made just 10 of 33 threes (30.3 percent). The Falcons were slightly better at 44.8 percent from the floor (26-for-58), and 8-for-24 from long range (78.9 percent).

Kamal Tall scored the first of his six points to give MSUB a 2-0 lead shortly after tipoff, but it was the team’s only advantage of the night. Long’s first three of the game gave SPU its first lead at 5-4, and kicked off a run over the next five minutes that landed the Falcons with a 22-12 edge midway through the first half.

MSUB started the game 0-for-10 from 3-point range, before a trey by Kendall Denham started a burst of 4-for-5 shooting from the arc to close the opening half. The Falcons’ lead peaked at 11 points in the first, and they held a 40-32 advantage by halftime.

Rasmussen approached his career best of 25 points, making 7 of 13 shots from the floor including 4-for-8 accuracy from the arc. GNAC Freshman of the Year candidate Tony Miller was also in double figures with 13 points, and tied for the team lead with six rebounds.

Denham finished with 11 points and MSUB leading scorer Preston Beverly totaled 10 for the ‘Jackets. Beverly added five rebounds, three assists, and a pair of blocks in 29 minutes. Seniors Marc Matthews and Jace Anderson each scored nine points, the latter leading the team with four assists. MSUB is 13-12 overall and held on to the No. 6 spot in the league standings at 8-9 in GNAC games.

SPU held a narrow 37-35 edge in rebounding, a department which Nathan Streufert led in with seven boards off the bench. The ‘Jackets protected the ball well with just nine turnovers and 15 assists, and they turned 11 SPU turnovers into 15 second-chance points.

THE BUZZ: Lessinger was named the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…SPU played without second-leading scorer Coleman Wooten, who has missed the last two games…MSUB is now 30-41 all-time against SPU and is 21-11 in games at Alterowitz Gym…the Falcons swept the season series, after defeating MSUB 94-75 on Jan. 21 in Seattle.

AHEAD: The ‘Jackets host Saint Martin’s University on Senior Night Saturday, as Anderson and Matthews will be honored prior to playing their final home game at Alterowitz Gym. The men’s game will be the back half of a doubleheader with the Yellowjacket women, and will tip off at 7:30 p.m.