(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)
SAN MARCOS, Calif. – Despite a three-point halftime lead and a seven point lead with 14 minutes to go, the Montana State University Billings men’s basketball team fell against the Cal State San Marcos Cougars for the second time in four days on Monday night, 80-72.
"These games were good for us," MSUB head coach Mick Durham said. "We definitely made some strides offensively tonight. We might have ran out of steam in the last eight minutes – credit to Cal State San Marcos on how they played and see some guys step up to complete the second half."
The Yellowjackets (1-2, 0-0 GNAC) improved in their rematch against the Cougars (3-0, 0-0 CCAA) after the two teams met in the season opener on Nov. 12. As a team, the ‘Jackets out-shot the Cougars by a 48.2%-44.1% margin, plus a game-high 39.4% from three.
Individually, Damen Thacker had his best game in a MSUB uniform with 22 points, six assists and six rebounds, while Carrington Wiggins added 18 points. Emmanuel Ajanaku came off the bench and nearly had a double-double with 10 points and seven rebounds in 14 minutes of action.
Determined to get off to a better start than they did in the first meeting, the Yellowjackets built an early lead off back-to-back threes from Wiggins and Damen Thacker, then Thacker drew contact on a three and sank all three free throws to put the ‘Jackets ahead 9-5. CSUSM took advantage of a few empty MSUB possessions before the first media timeout to take a 10-9 lead.
Out of the timeout, Emmanuel Ajanaku came off the bench and made an immediate impact for the ‘Jackets: first by corralling a rebound over the entire Cougars defense for a putback, then by drawing a whistle on a putback attempt to make the score 15-13, CSUSM with 14:10 to go. MSUB’s bench also gave the team a lift on both ends of the floor, as Jo Jones picked CSUSM guard Lyle Sutton’s pocket and found a streaking Wiggins, who was fouled on a layup. Then, as the Cougars threatened to pull ahead for good, Bilal Shabazz found a wide-open Jaren Fritz, who sank a three to make the score 20-18, Cougars with 11:58 left in the first.
Neither team could gain a major advantage until Ajanaku’s third field goal sparked a 5-0 run. Then Thacker kicked it out to Finn, who nailed a three in front of CSUSM’s bench to give the ‘Jackets a 25-22 lead before Ajanaku was rewarded for being active on the offensive glass with his fourth field goal of the half. Yet the Yellowjacket offense sputtered and the Cougars came back to take a 30-29 lead with 4:59 to go in the first.
MSUB, however, closed the half on a run with under two minutes to go. Shabazz threw down a two-handed jam, then Jones sank a corner three, giving MSUB a seven-point lead with 73 seconds left, yet the Cougars would cut the ‘Jacket lead to three before halftime.
Leading 40-37 out of the break, MSUB countered a CSUSM three with Thacker’s third triple, then the senior guard seamed a bounce pass between two defenders to find a wide-open Brown for a dunk. Wiggins’ fast-break layup with 16:23 gave MSUB a 47-42 lead, then Brent Finn put the Yellowjackets up 49-42 with 14:32 to go. Despite having its largest lead of the night, the Cougars went on an 8-0 run to take a 50-49 lead and force Durham to call timeout with 12:52 to go.
Wiggins kept driving and keeping his team in the game until the ‘Jackets broke through one more time with Nicholas Sebastiao stepping into a three to put MSUB ahead 59-57 with 8:34 to go. But the ‘Jacket offense stalled and the Cougars pulled ahead 68-61 before the final media timeout.
The MSUB backcourt wouldn’t go down without a fight, as Wiggins sank a wide-open three out of the media timeout, then picked off a pass on the next possession that led to an and-one opportunity for Thacker. The senior made the bonus to pull MSUB within one at 68-67, yet both teams traded offensive fouls and the game ground to a halt. Trailing 72-67 with 1:32 left, Wiggins drove to the rack and finished an acrobatic layup to make it a one-possession game again, yet six CSUSM free throws and a dunk down the stretch put the game out of reach for the Yellowjackets.
MSUB returns to Alterowitz Gym to take on Minot State this Saturday evening at 7 p.m. Livestream and live stat links can be found at the men’s basketball schedule page [msubsports.com] on msubsports.com.