(MSUB Athletics photo)

(MSU Billings release)

HONOLULU – Falling just short in an upset bid against No. 7 Drury University, the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team snapped its season-opening nine-game winning streak with a 74-69 defeat on Saturday morning in the opening game of the Oahu Christmas Classic at St. Francis High School.

Lexi Prevost nailed a 3-pointer with seven seconds remaining, pulling the Yellowjackets within a single possession down 72-69. Alice Heinzler hit a pair of clutch free throws after being fouled however, icing the game as the ‘Jackets ran out of time.

The Panthers’ heavy pressure throughout the entire game forced a season-high 25 turnovers by the Yellowjackets, who entered the day with the fourth-fewest turnovers per game in the NCAA at 11.7. “Drury was a very good team, and I felt their full-court pressure hurt us at the beginning of both halves,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “Once we settled in we played very well. We need to see improvement in our free-throw shooting, and our post passing wasn’t as crisp as it has been. It was great for our team to play excellent competition like this, and despite being down double digits we fought back. Again I can’t be more proud of our players with how we fought back and closed within three late.”

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MSUB fell to 9-1 on the season after winning its first nine games of the year for its best start in program history. Alisha Breen led the ‘Jackets with an 18-point, 11-rebound double-double, and also had five assists and a steal. Rylee Kane had a season-high 20 points, and Prevost finished with nine.

Drury improved to 10-1 overall, and has now won eight straight games. Hannah Harman led all players with 24 points, thanks to 6-for-12 accuracy from 3-point range. Hailey Diestelkamp and Daejah Bernard tied for the team high with four steals apiece, and the former was a rebound shy of a double-double with 19 points and nine boards.

The ‘Jackets had five turnovers in the first three minutes of the game, allowing Drury to build an early 9-2 advantage. Breen nailed her first three of the game to make the score 15-15 midway through the period, but Diestelkamp countered with four straight points to give Drury a 19-17 advantage by the end of the quarter.

A second-quarter run was sparked by the presence of Rachel Koehler, who had three rebounds and an assist in the first five minutes. An ensuing jumper by Kane gave MSUB its largest lead of the game at 28-25, but Harman pulled the score even again and gave DU a 33-32 halftime lead with two more treys.

DU’s lead reached double figures when Heinzler hit a three early in the third, and it peaked at 53-37 on another Harman three with four minutes to play in the period.

MSUB chipped away at a double-figure deficit entering the fourth quarter, but a stretch of nearly five full minutes without a field goal proved to be a pivotal dry spell. While MSUB went 0-for-4 from the field, DU went on a 10-2 run and had its advantage back to 13 points with just 2:32 to go. Brina Hull had a three to finally end the cold shooting, but by then the Panthers’ lead proved too big to overcome.

The ‘Jackets refused to go away, limiting Drury to just three more shots the rest of the game and nearly completing the comeback. Breen’s final layup came with 36 seconds left and made the score 70-66, but DU got a breakaway layup from Brooke Stanfield to stop MSUB’s chance to tie the game.

MSUB out-rebounded Drury 36-34, and the Panthers committed 18 turnovers as both teams played strong defense. MSUB shot well from the field overall at 50.0 percent (25-for-50), but made just 6 of 17 threes (35.3 percent) and paid the price for making just 13 of 22 free throws (59.1 percent). Koehler finished with eight rebounds for the Yellowjackets.

Drury meanwhile finished the game shooting 42.9 percent overall (27-for-63), 31 percent from long range (9-for-29), and made just 11 of 22 foul shots.

THE BUZZ: Breen was named the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…the ‘Jackets are now 0-2 all-time against the Panthers, with both games being played at a neutral site…the double-double was Breen’s fourth of the year and 11th of her career…the 20-point game was the second of Kane’s career, with her most ever in a game being 25 points.

NEXT UP: MSUB is back in action Sunday morning, in its first-ever contest against Harding University. Tipoff is scheduled for 9 a.m. HST/Noon MTN.

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