(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS - Crosstown college basketball is back on the court Wednesday night with MSU Billings visiting Rocky Mountain College in a doubleheader between the men and women.
MSUB's women are scheduled for three games in the next four days.
Wednesday's tip is set for 5 p.m. at the Fortin Center with the men to follow. No fans will be allowed but there is live video available online here [meridix.com].
MSUB will then hit the road for a pair of games against Lewis-Clark State College over the weekend. After splitting two games at Alterowitz Gym a week ago, the Warriors and Yellowjackets will do battle on Friday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Activity Center in Lewiston, Idaho. Live video for those games will be available online here [lcwarriors.com] and live statistics will be available online here [lcwarriors.com].
“It’s always fun playing Rocky,” said Yellowjacket head coach Kevin Woodin. “There will be great intensity out there and I know both teams will play hard. We need to be ready, and it is a difficult place to play. They always get up and play their best for us.”
The ‘Jackets are coming off a 77-69 win over LC State on Jan. 30, after the Warriors won 56-49 in the season-opener the night before. MSUB will look to build into this week’s games after two contests decided by single digits. “It was definitely good to play and it was fun for the entire team,” said junior Cariann Kunkel, who made her MSUB debut against LC State. “We had never played before with this brand new team, so just getting that under our belt was important. The second game when we were down, came back, and fought through adversity, that was really good.”
“I was pleased with how we got better as the two games progressed,” Woodin said. “Defensively we were pretty consistent throughout both days, and offensively we started to get our tempo and execution going better. It was just great to play, but also we are sure striving to win games.”
Returning all-conference forward Taryn Shelley was the top performer for MSUB over the first two games of the year, as she racked up 45 points in just 50 minutes of action while shooting 70.4 percent from the floor. Shelley was also MSUB’s leading rebounder over the first two games with 14, and she added three blocked shots as well.
Kunkel was a standout in her debut as a Yellowjacket, scoring 19 points and hauling in a dozen rebounds while leading the team with nine assists in the split against the Warriors. “Cariann is a wonderful player for us,” said Woodin. “I am so impressed with how hard she plays and how versatile she is.”
“It has been really fun experiencing the new culture and the new team,” said Kunkel, who transferred to MSUB after two seasons at Wenatchee Valley College. “I am definitely thankful for my college experience. It has helped me know how to be a leader and know how to talk, and just to know how college basketball is played.”
Freshmen Dyauni Boyce and Kortney Nelson also had notable debuts, contributing on both ends of the floor. Boyce averaged 8.0 points over the two games, while grabbing nine rebounds and committing zero turnovers in 43 total minutes on the floor. Nelson meanwhile was the team’s leading rebounder with 9.5 per game as she earned a spot in the starting lineup in both contests. “They are so much fun to have on the team,” Kunkel said when asked about the performance of the Yellowjacket newcomers. “They are definitely adjusting well. College basketball is a lot of hard work, and that’s definitely what they’re doing.”
Junior Addison Gardner had a career performance in the win over the Warriors, with her 12 points standing as the most she has scored in a collegiate game. Gardner knocked down four 3-pointers to help the Yellowjackets rally to victory, and she also grabbed seven rebounds on the weekend.
After the slow start in the season opener, MSUB’s offense came alive as the team averaged 63.0 points over the first two games. The ‘Jackets also carried a notable 41.0-33.0 edge in average rebounds in the home series against the Warriors.
Rocky Mountain College enters Wednesday’s game with a record of 1-7 overall on the season, with all of its previous games being played against Frontier Conference opponents. The Battlin’ Bears were last on the court on Jan. 23 and Jan. 24, in a pair of road losses to Montana State Northern in Havre.
LC State (9-4) enters this weekend coming off wins over Eastern Oregon on Feb. 4 (79-61) and College of Idaho on Feb. 6 (76-57). The games against MSUB will be the final regular-season contests for LC State, before the Cascade Conference Championships at the end of the month.
“It will be nice to see how we have progressed the last 10 days since playing LC,” Woodin said. “You’re not used to playing somebody four times over two weeks, but that’s just the way the schedule goes. It’ll be a long trip, but it will be some good bonding time for our team on the bus. Hopefully we will play well, and I expect us to.”
Coming off a win in its 2020-21 season debut on Saturday, MSUB's men play the 7 p.m. game.
“It’s our rival game, and I know our guys will be excited,” said MSUB head coach Mick Durham on the upcoming contest against the Bears. “The most important thing is that we see some good strides between Game 1 and Game 2. It will definitely be very competitive, and we will have to go over and compete for 40 (minutes).”
Wednesday will be the first of two games scheduled against RMC this season, with the teams reconvening next week on Feb. 17 at Alterowitz Gym. The Yellowjackets enter the week with momentum, after knocking off visiting Yellowstone Christian College 92-84 in the opening game of the abbreviated season on Saturday at Alterowitz Gym.
“I think it’s about what we expected,” Durham said regarding the team’s first game of the year. “There were a lot of good things, and a lot of things we need to clean up. It was great for us to have some competition and for us to get our guys out there. We faced a little adversity getting behind in the second half, and had to fight through that. I was pretty pleased, and now we need to build on that.”
Returning all-conference forward Brendan Howard was the headline player in Saturday’s win, as he scored 29 points while adding seven rebounds in his 31 minutes on the floor. Howard made 10 of 17 shots – including 4 of 6 threes – and connected on all five of his free throws to help lead MSUB to the win.
The Yellowjackets also saw promising play from their cast of newcomers, who were highly influential in the victory. Sophomore center Jimmy Brown narrowly missed a double-double in his first-ever MSUB game, as he scored a dozen points and led all players with nine boards in 23 solid minutes off the bench.
True freshman Nicholas Sebastiao chipped in 15 points including three 3-pointers, and grabbed four boards while adding two steals and committing zero turnovers. “Jimmy brings a little more experience with a couple of years at the junior college level,” Durham said. “Nick is a true freshman and for him to come in and shoot the ball like that and to give us a physical presence too was great to see.”
“I was really proud of them, especially Nick,” sophomore Clarence Daniels said when asked about the performance of the team’s newcomers in Saturday’s season opener. “He’s a freshman coming out of high school, and he had a real good debut. Jimmy hasn’t played (a game) in two-plus years, so he was really excited to get out there too.”
Carrington Wiggins also reached double figures in his MSUB debut, scoring 12 points and adding five rebounds and three steals. Sophomore guard Chrishon Dixon was the top facilitator in Saturday’s win, with a game-high eight assists while adding in 10 points and four rebounds.
Daniels, who saw action in all 30 games as a freshman in 2019-20, also made his season debut scoring four points and adding a steal. “I was very fortunate to be out there playing as a true freshman, and I learned a lot especially in this conference,” Daniels said regarding his debut campaign as a Yellowjacket a season ago. “Hopefully the new guys here learn and pick up on things, and me being a second-year player I try to give them advice or tips I wish I would have known last year.”
“Clarence got some good experience with about 10 minutes per game last year, and he’s playing a little bit more on the perimeter this year,” Durham commented on the sophomore. “He’s one of the guys I think this year is great for. This is a year for him to grow and mature, play at a couple of different positions, and experiment with a little bit. His role is important, both in getting offensive boards and being a slasher and also being one of our better defensive players.”
The Battlin’ Bears are 1-11 so far this season, with their lone win coming against Montana Western on Jan. 5 in a home game. Since then RMC has lost 10 straight games all against Frontier Conference opponents. The Bears are coming off a pair of losses at UMW last weekend in Dillon, and are scheduled to play Montana Tech twice this weekend after the mid-week affair with the Yellowjackets.
Darius Henderson is RMC’s leading scorer this year with an average of 14.7 points per game, and Maxim Stephens is close behind at 14.2 points per game. Stephens is also the team’s leading rebounder at 7.0 boards per game, and Nick Hart averages in double figures as well with 10.5 points per game.