(DAN DRAGAN / MTN Sports)

(Press release from MSUB Athletic Department)

BILLINGS – Following a trip to Hawaii and an abbreviated winter break, the Montana State University Billings Yellowjackets (8-6, 0-3 GNAC) will host the Northwest Nazarene Nighthawks (6-3, 2-1 GNAC) on Saturday Dec. 30 at 7 p.m. in Alterowitz Gym.

The ‘Jackets will return to Great Northwest Athletic Conference play for the remainder of their 17 game schedule as they look to make a run to the conference tournament in Anchorage, Alaska.

Both teams last played on Dec. 19 with the ‘Jackets facing Hawaii Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii while the Nighthawks lost 80-67 against Central Washington in Wenatchee, Wash. In a hard fought affair against the Shark, MSUB had stellar performances from Kendall Denham and Zack Rollins. Denham led the team with 25 points playing all but one minute in the game. Rollins scored 23 adding five rebounds with his final shot of the game bouncing off the back of the rim as HPU held on for a 73-71 win.

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The ‘Jackets played three games in Hawaii during the Hoops in Hawaii Holiday Classic starting with an 81-63 win over the University of Hawaii at Hilo. They followed with a 100-88 loss to Chaminade after the Silverswords opened the game on a 30-2 run.

NUMBERS AND NOTES

3-POINT PROMINENCE: To this point in the season, the Yellowjackets lead all of Division II with 162 3-pointers made. MSUB is third in the nation in 3-point attempts with 401 this season. Denham and Sven Jeuschede are tied for the team lead with 36 threes a piece followed closely by Rollins with 35. The Yellowjackets have scored 486 points from deep accounting for 42.5 percent of their total offense while shooting just over 46 percent of their shots from long range. Their 40.4 percent rate from beyond the arc ranks 39th in Division II, a marked improvement from their 36.2 percent a year ago.

DEEP DEFENDING: While the ‘Jacket prolific deep threat has been a major advantage, they may be even better at keeping opponents from scoring from 3-point range. In their loss to Hawaii Pacific, MSUB held the Sharks under 30 percent from beyond the arc. It was the eighth time this season that opponents had failed to hit more than a third of their attempts from range with the Yellowjackets holding a 5-3 record in such contests. Their 29.7 percent 3-point defense is 12th in the nation and leads the GNAC. Central Washington failed to make a single three in tier matchup against the ‘Jackets going 0-for-6, it is the first time the Wildcats haven’t sunk a shot from beyond the arc since the beginning of the GNAC in 2001.

 A HISTORIC START: Zharon Richmond tallied 11 blocks in the past four games and has now strung together six games with at least one block heading into Saturday’s matchup with the Nighthawks. He now has 28 rejections in his first 14 collegiate games which ties him for the 13th most blocks in an entire season in MSUB history. Richmond is tied for 16th on the career block chart at MSUB and his 2.0 average ranks him fifth in the GNAC. As a team, the Yellowjackets rank ninth in Division II with 61 total blocks this season.

A CAREEER TIE: In the game against Hawaii Pacific, Denham tied his career high with 25 points in the contest while setting a new career mark with seven made threes. The senior is now averaging 12.4 points per game while playing 29.4 minutes per contest. The largest improvement in his game has come from beyond the arc where he has already sunk a career-best 36 3-pointers this season. He is shooting 42.9 percent from deep, well above his previous career average of 36.3 percent.

Northwest Nazarene Nighthawks

Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017 | 7:00 PM (MTN) | Alterwoitz Gym

2017-18 Record: 6-3, 2-1 GNAC

Head Coach: Paul Rush, 1st Season

2016-17 Record: 12-14, 9-11 GNAC (8th place)

 The Nighthawks had a great start to conference play as they picked up wins over Seattle Pacific and Saint Martin’s in Nampa, Idaho to start their GNAC schedule. NNU also has wins over Multnomah, the College of Idaho, Academy of Art and Metro State. Along with their most recent loss to Central Washington, Northwest Nazarene fell in contests against San Francisco State, the College of Idaho and Regis University.

Senior forward Maurice Jones scores a GNAC-leading 20.2 points per game for the ‘Hawks after averaging 16 points as a junior. He shots over 56 percent from the field and has made 23 of 45 shots from 3-point range while leading the team with 9.7 rebounds per game. Jones’ teammate Obi Megwa is second in the conference averaging 18.4 points per game in the Nighthawks’ backcourt.

NNU is third in the conference averaging 84.9 points per game but allows a league high 80.8 per game to their opponents. The Nighthawks average the fewest assists in the GNAC with much of their offense created via isolation.

In the all-time series against Northwest Nazarene, the Yellowjackets hold a one-game 18-17 advantage. The teams split a pair of games last season with each squad winning on their home court. MSUB is 12-7 when hosting the Nighthawks and have won the past two meeting in Alterowitz Gym. NNU was the last team to earn a road win with a 91-67 victory in Billings back in 2015, that win was in a stretch of five consecutive victories over the ‘Jackets.

Paul Rush is in his first season at the head of the Nighthawk program after spending the previous two season as an assistant in Nampa. Previously he was the head coach at Boise’s Capital High School where he guided the Eagles to a 5A State Championship in 2014.

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