(Photo courtesy MSU Billings)

(MSU Billings release)

LACEY, Wash. – Leading by one with seven seconds left, Brina Hull picked her attacker’s pocket in a steal that helped the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team to a dramatic 58-56 win over host Saint Martin’s University in Great Northwest Athletic Conference action Saturday evening at Marcus Pavilion.

Hull’s steal led to a free throw by Alisha Breen to give MSUB a two-point cushion, and a last-ditch attempt to tie the game by SMU’s Saniah Simpson-Patu rimmed out as time expired.

MSUB led by as much as 12 points early in the fourth quarter, but the Saints came all the way back and took a 54-53 lead with 1:42 left to play. From there, the game alternated back-and-forth as Breen scored MSUB’s final four points and had a key steal of her own before Hull’s game-defining swipe.

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“I was really proud of our team for grinding out this win, but give Saint Martin’s credit for chipping away,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “We did a great job defending the 3-point line tonight, and we boarded very well in the second half.”

Breen tied her career high with 17 rebounds, notching her second-straight double-double and sixth of the year with 18 points as well. Grace Weeks had a personal-best 10 rebounds for the ‘Jackets, who reached their highest board total of the year in the 50-41 advantage on the glass.

The Yellowjackets were also exceptional in defending the arc, as Saint Martin’s made just 1 of 17 threes on the evening. Meanwhile, MSUB knocked down seven treys and won despite shooting just 29.9 percent (21-for-71) on the night. Playing their fifth straight game on the road, the ‘Jackets snapped a four-game losing skid and improved to 10-4 overall and 3-1 in league play with the win.

Saint Martin’s (5-7, 1-3 GNAC) was led by Elin Johansson with 16 points and Makenna Schultz with 15 points. Simpson-Patu led the team with nine rebounds, while Johansson had eight boards and Schultz finished with six.

Breen’s only three of the game evened the score at 10-10 in the opening quarter, but Johansson and Schultz combined for the next six points as the Saints had the 16-12 edge after 10 minutes of play. The momentum continued as SMU started the second quarter 4-for-9 and built a seven-point edge midway through the period.

Taylor Edwards came off the bench to knock down a big three, and four-straight points by Vanessa Stavish helped the ‘Jackets narrow the deficit as halftime approached. Janessa Williams also contributed with a pair of big rebounds late in the second quarter, and Lexi Prevost had two of her eight points on free throws with 58 seconds to go to give the ‘Jackets their eventual 30-28 halftime lead. “We had a little run right before halftime to get the lead after being down, and that was really important for our confidence,” Woodin said.

Weeks was equally effective with five rebounds in each half, while Breen was key with 12 points and 10 boards over the final 20 minutes. “Grace was really good, and she had a great motor for us,” said Woodin. “Alisha had 17 boards and that was big, and I thought our team was really connected and determined to come out on top.”

A 1-for-11 dry spell for SMU consumed nearly the entire third quarter, as the Saints failed to gain any traction offensively. The home team also had three of its 12 turnovers during the stretch, while the ‘Jackets again protected the ball well with just 11 giveaways on the night.

Stavish finished with a dozen points for the ‘Jackets, while senior point guard Rylee Kane had six assists and a pair of steals.

“We haven’t played at home since December 9th, and we are looking forward to our next four games being there,” Woodin said.

THE BUZZ: Weeks was selected as the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…MSUB is now 26-11 all-time against Saint Martin’s and is 12-9 in road matches…the ‘Jackets have won five of the last six in the series…the start was the first of freshman guard Hannah Collins’ career.

NEXT UP: MSUB returns home for a four-game stretch at Alterowitz Gym, where it is 7-0 on the year but has not competed since Dec. 9. MSUB will host the University of Alaska on Jan. 4, before a primetime matchup against No. 6 University of Alaska Anchorage.

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