(Photo from MSUB Athletic Department)

(Press Release by MSUB Athletic Department)

HONOLULU – A decisive 3-point shot attempt by Zack Rollins at the buzzer rattled out and the Montana State University Billings men’s basketball team dropped a thriller 73-71 at the hands of Hawaii Pacific University in the Hoops in Hawaii Classic finale Tuesday afternoon at the Hawaii Convention Center.

Trailing by two points with three seconds left, Hafeez Abdul intercepted HPU’s errant, long inbounds pass and whipped the ball around the arc to Rollins who already had 23 points. As the buzzer sounded the junior’s open look glanced off the back iron and the game came to a dramatic finish.

“That was a good college basketball game, and I’m proud of the way we fought,” said MSUB head coach Jamie Stevens. “We had some really nice individual performances, specifically by Kendall, Zack, and Kobe. But, the same thing that hurt us all year caught up with us, which was too many turnovers and fouls. We need to work on that and make some adjustment.”

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Kendall Denham tied his career high with 25 points to lead all scorers, as the senior had a career best night from the arc at 7-for-11 from downtown. Rollins’ 23 points were a season high, and Sven Jeuschede.

Coming out of the halftime break, Rollins had five straight points on a trey and a layup to even the score at 50-50. An ensuing 8-0 run by the Sharks prevented the ‘Jackets from taking the lead, and the 58-50 advantage was the largest lead by either team in the even matchup.

The ‘Jackets never took the lead down the stretch, but kept it within a single possession the rest of the game. A three by Jeuschede made the score 62-61 with 4:15 left, but the Sharks matched the ‘Jackets bucket for bucket into the closing minutes to secure the win.

Rollins had 10 of MSUB’s first 19 points of the game, helping the ‘Jackets to a 19-18 edge midway through the low-scoring first half. A pair of free throws by Niksha Federico pushed the advantage into HPU’s favor, and the Sharks never relinquished the lead the rest of the night.

Federico led a quartet of double-figures Shark scorers, matching Denham with 25 points on 9 of 17 shooting primarily under the basket. Jonathan Janssen had 15 points, Albert Christensson had a dozen, and Spencer Vering added 10 for HPU, which made just 3 of 14 threes (21.4 percent). Overall the Sharks shot 43.9 percent (25-for-57) and made 20 of 25 foul shots.

HPU made it 28-22, but Rollins hit a big three to keep the ‘Jackets in it with three minutes before the break. The junior had 13 points by halftime, helping the Yellowjackets keep pace despite making 3 of 11 threes over the opening 20 minutes.

HPU didn’t fare any better from the arc, making just 1 of 6 shots from long range. The back-and-forth opening half featured three ties and six lead changes, with neither team able to sustain a significant run of offensive output.

Denham started the second half with five quick points, while the Sharks continued to struggle from the arc missing their first two threes of the half. Denham had 20 of his 25 points – including six 3-pointers – over the final 20 minutes.

Denham’s personal-best sixth three of the game evened the score at 64-64, setting up a dramatic finish with 3:40 to go. MSUB stayed within two possessions into the final minute, and Kobe Terashima drove the full length of the court for a layup in four seconds to put the ‘Jackets down two before the near-miss by Rollins.

Denham earned all-tournament honors for the ‘Jackets, who beat the University of Hawaii Hilo 81-63 in their first game of the tournament. “Kendall had a great week, and this is a well-deserved honor,” Stevens said. “He kept us in it today and hit some big threes, and has continued this week what he’s done all year in being a difference maker.”

Terashima led the team with seven rebounds and four assists, and the ‘Jackets were narrowly out-rebounded 37-36. MSUB shot 42.9 percent from the floor (27-for-63), 38.7 percent from the arc (12-for-31), and made 5 of 6 free throws.

THE BUZZ: Denham was named the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…MSUB is now 10-8 all-time against HPU, and is 3-6 in away games…the ‘Jackets have won five of the last seven in the series, but HPU has won the last two…Denham’s previous career best was five threes in a game, during his other 25-point performance at Northwest Nazarene on Jan 7, 2016…Rollins’ previous season high was 21 points on Dec. 9 against Rocky Mountain College.