(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – Shayla Montague’s 2020-21 season debut was made in style Friday night at Alterowitz Gym, as the sophomore scored a career-high 20 points to lead Montana State University Billings’ women’s basketball team to a 79-62 win over Great Northwest Athletic Conference opponent Northwest Nazarene University.
“This is a tremendous win for us against a really good NNU team,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “We played very hard tonight. My assistant coaches did a great job of preparing our team, and my players just played their hearts out. We had great spirit from everybody.”
Montague, who missed MSUB’s first six games of the year with an injury, matched her career best with four made 3-pointers and shot 6-for-12 overall while playing 37 of 40 minutes. “She’s a very mature player, she doesn’t make a lot of errors, and she’s a very team-oriented person,” Woodin commented on the impact of having Montague back in the lineup. “Shayla was mentally really prepared tonight, and hit a couple of big shots. She was really into the game and did a lot of good things for us.”
Montague’s final trey – which broke her career scoring mark – was the most exciting of the night as it left her fingertips with one second on the shot clock and proved to be a sinking blow that gave MSUB its largest lead of the night with 2:46 left in the game. “Once we broke the pressure as a team we got a lot of good, open shots,” Montague said. “They base their whole offense and defense off of their pressure, and we just stayed together.”
The Yellowjackets (4-1) successfully battled the Nighthawks’ stubborn pressure defense, and overcame 26 turnovers by shooting a season-high 58.0 percent in the game (29-for-50). MSUB made 9 of 18 threes (50.0 percent) and 12 of 16 free throws (75.0 percent) on a strong all-around shooting night.
Cariann Kunkel, who had 13 double-doubles throughout her two-year career at Wenatchee Valley College, had her first in a Yellowjacket uniform on Friday with 16 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. The junior played 36 outstanding minutes, adding five assists and four steals to her stat line. “She just plays so hard, and can do a lot of things for us,” Woodin commented on Kunkel’s production. “She’s really a good teammate and a positive person, and is the kind of person you want to surround yourself with.”
Skylar Patton scored a season-high 15 points, while adding four assists, three rebounds, and a steal and playing a game-high 38 minutes. “I want to give credit to Sky, because she did a really good job finding our 3-point shooters,” Montague commented on the junior point guard.
The Yellowjackets stared an eight-point deficit in the face with 4:38 to go in the second quarter, before making what proved to be the game-defining turnaround. MSUB closed the half on a 14-0 run, which started with six straight points from Kunkel, and headed to the locker room with a 37-31 advantage. “A big key was the last stretch in the second quarter, and we really played well there defensively and offensively,” Woodin said.
Northwest Nazarene (5-6) tied the score at 42-42 midway through the third quarter, but MSUB quickly responded with another strong scoring burst. Montague scored six points over the next four minutes, and a three by Kunkel with 1:05 to go in the third put MSUB up by 15 in the blink of an eye. “We answered them in the second half, and when they scored a couple of buckets we came right back at them,” Woodin said.
NNU got as close as down by 10 in the fourth quarter, but MSUB was never in danger of relinquishing the advantage down the stretch. Taryn Shelley finished with nine points, six rebounds, and a pair of assists, while Dyauni Boyce scored 11 points and added six rebounds. Addison Gardner finished with eight points and a career-high four assists, and was 1 of 5 MSUB players with multiple assists in the game.
Teagan Thurman led NNU in scoring with 14 points off the bench, while Haley Hanson (11 points) and Jordan Pinson (10 points) also reached double figures. The Nighthawks endured a mark of 37.5 percent overall (27-for-72), and were ice cold from 3-point range at just 11.8 percent (2-for-17).
The Yellowjackets, who entered the game out-rebounding their opposition by just over 10 boards per game, held strong in that category again Friday with an edge of 34-26.
THE BUZZ: Montague was picked as the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…her previous collegiate high in scoring was 17 points, which she reached on Jan. 25, 2020 against Saint Martin’s…Friday was the fourth time in her career she has hit four 3-pointers in a game…MSUB is now 18-18 all-time against NNU and holds an 11-5 record in home games…Friday snapped a four-game losing skid against the Nighthawks, as MSUB’s last victory against NNU was a 76-69 win in the semifinals of the 2018 GNAC Championships.
NEXT UP: The teams reconvene Saturday afternoon with a 2 p.m. tipoff at Alterowitz Gym. Live video will be available online here [youtube.com] and live statistics will be available online here [msubsports.com].