(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – In accordance with Montana State University Billings COVID-19 protocol and procedures, the Yellowjacket men’s basketball team has paused all team activities as of Wednesday morning.
MSUB’s games against Rocky Mountain College, at Idaho State University on Saturday, and against Yellowstone Christian College on February 27, have been canceled.
Meantime, Shannon Reny delivered career highs of 10 points and eight rebounds and Cariann Kunkel led all players with 23 points, highlighting a 69-57 win for Montana State University Billings over Rocky Mountain College in women's basketball action Wednesday evening at Alterowitz Gym.
While MSUB had a comfortable 31-20 advantage at halftime, it was Kunkel at the forefront of a 23-15 scoring burst in the third quarter that put the game out of reach for the Battlin' Bears. The junior scored 14 of MSUB's 23 points in the period, burying three 3-pointers and elevating the team's advantage to as many as 20 points on two different occasions.
"She's a tremendous player, and that was a great get for us," MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin commented on Kunkel, a junior-college transfer. "Her versatility is really starting to come through, and she basically played all five positions during this game. We are really fortunate to have her, and she's getting a little fire in her."
Overall on the night Kunkel made 6 of 11 shots and 8 of 10 free throws, while adding eight rebounds, four assists and a steal in 31 productive minutes. "Our coaches just talked about how we needed to play inspired," Kunkel said on the halftime talk. "We were just kind of going through the motions in the first half, and we came out with fire. It is fun to play that way."
Reny had back-to-back layups in the opening quarter to give MSUB a 10-8 advantage, and the Yellowjackets led for the rest of the game on a night where they maintained command throughout. Reny made 4 of 7 shots and a pair of free throws to break double digits in scoring for the first time in her collegiate career, while adding a pair of steals and a pair of assists. "Shannon just cares so much about our program," Woodin said on the junior veteran. "She did a lot of great things, and she is the kind of person you want to surround yourself with. She's always talking to her teammates, and she's in the gym all the time trying to get better."
"She did great," Kunkel commented on her fellow junior's performance. "She is one of the hardest workers I have ever met so it's really cool to see her doing so good on the floor. We are all really happy to have her on our team."
The Bears (1-9) continued to battle until the end, but could never get the deficit below double figures after Kunkel's big showing in the third. "It was a good win for us," said Woodin. "In the first half we had a hard time finishing around the basket, and at halftime we talked about that. The third quarter was our best quarter. We came out really hungry and got the lead up there."
Reigning Great Northwest Athletic Conference Player of the Week Addison Gardner barely missed her first-career double-double, as she finished with 10 points and a career-high nine rebounds on a night where the 'Jackets dominated the glass 51-28. Taryn Shelley led all players with 11 boards, while Dyauni Boyce added eight rebounds to go along with five points.
Kacy Horton hit 5 of 9 threes for the Bears, to lead her team with 17 points on the evening. Dominique Stephens, who led all players with 23 points in MSUB's narrow 80-78 win at Rocky a week ago, was limited to 12 points on just 4 of 17 shooting. Stephens led RMC with seven rebounds.
The Yellowjackets (3-1) managed to win comfortably despite a poor night shooting from the arc, as they made just 3 of 14 shots (21.4 percent). Overall MSUB shot 37.9 percent in the game (22-for-58), and had its best free-throw shooting performance of the season at 71.0 percent (22-for-31).
By comparison, RMC shot just 30.1 percent overall (22-for-73), while making 10 of 29 threes (34.5 percent) and 3 of 4 foul shots. The Bears limited their turnovers to 13, but they managed to score just 11 points off the 20 turnovers they took off the Yellowjackets.
All eight of the MSUB players who suited up on Wednesday evening scored, as Kali Gulick contributed four points, five rebounds, and a pair of blocked shots in 18 solid minutes off the bench. True freshman Marie Five scored her first collegiate basket on an assist from Boyce, while adding a rebound and an assist in her 10 minutes of play.
"We were just more confident, tonight," Kunkel said. "We knew what we needed to do, stepped out onto the court, and did it. It was fun to get the lead and keep it, because we haven't played a game where we have had the lead throughout."
THE BUZZ: Kunkel was selected as the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…Kunkel was just two points off her all-time collegiate high of 25, which she reached her sophomore season at Wenatchee Valley College on Nov. 17, 2019 against Walla Walla…Reny's previous high in scoring was four points which she reached on two occasions…her previous high in rebounding was six which she achieved last season on Nov. 18, 2019 against corban University…Gardner's previous career high in rebounding was six, reached on Jan. 29 against LC State…MSUB was without Shayla Montague for the sixth straight game, Danielle Zahn for the third straight game, and Kortney Nelson as well.
AHEAD: MSUB has four more games on the abbreviated 2020-21 schedule, all against fellow GNAC school Northwest Nazarene University. The 'Jackets will host the Nighthawks on Feb. 26-27, before traveling to Nampa, Idaho, to finish the series on March 5-6. Live coverage for all four games will be available online here.
"We are excited we are still getting to play some games," Woodin said. "It is stressful every week – you test, and you hope, and you just move forward. We just need to get a little bit healthier, and I'm very optimistic Shayla will be playing next week. Our players just need to keep battling, and we are looking forward to those four games against a really good team."