(MSU Billings release)
BILLINGS – Claudia Hart scored 28 points and Montana State University Billings fell 72-66 to Simon Fraser University in the final women’s basketball home game at Alterowitz Gymnasium of 2019-20 Saturday night. In a Great Northwest Athletic Conference clash, the Clan used an 11-0 run in the third quarter to distance themselves enough to win. Hannah Collins (16 points), Taryn Shelley (15 points), Shayla Montague (14 points), and Jeanann Lemelin (10 points) all made it to double-figures in defeat and seniors Cunningham, Lemelin, and Janessa Williams were honored after the game as they concluded their MSUB regular season careers.
“We had balanced scoring tonight and I thought we got the ball inside consistently,” commented MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “We were getting the shots we wanted but struggled to convert, especially during a long drought in the third quarter. Part of it was good defense by Simon Fraser, but also we simply didn’t make enough shots, which sometimes happens.”
Shortly before tipoff, the Yellowjackets (14-15, 9-11) clinched the sixth and final position for the GNAC Championships, set to begin in Seattle, Washington on March 5. MSUB joined Alaska Anchorage, Northwest Nazarene, Western Washington, Central Washington, and Simon Fraser in the tournament.
The Yellowjackets shot 35-percent with five 3-pointers to take a 33-28 lead at halftime. MSUB also out-rebounded the Clan 28-17. Montague started strong with nine points and six boards through 20 minutes and Collins distributed the basketball and scored six.
“Both teams played hard in the first half and it was difficult to gain any kind of separation,” said Woodin “We did a nice job on the boards in the first half and we protected the ball well.”
Simon Fraser stole the lead back 36-35 with 3:21 to play in the third quarter and held the Yellowjackets without a basket for more than six minutes for a 39-35 edge.
“Give them credit in the third quarter for coming out and executing well,” said Woodin. “We had some looks at that point but just were not converting.”
The ‘Jackets began to knock down shots with more frequency to start the fourth and the teams traded points heading in to the final minutes. Montague drove to the basket for a layup and converted a 3-point play with 35 seconds left and a four-point deficit.
Still working against the clock, the ‘Jackets were forced to send Simon Fraser to the line. Collins made a short ranger jump shot on the next possession, but Ozioma Nwabuko made 4 of 4 free throws with under 10 seconds remaining to seal the game.
“Our fourth quarter was really good and we made a run to get back in it and didn’t quit,” Woodin said. “We just fell a couple plays short. Claudia Hart stepped into a bigger role and played well tonight. She proved she could score inside and outside with soft touch around the basket and then got to the foul line a lot, which hurt us.”
The Clan finished 21-for-65 (32.3-percent) overall and 8-for-24 (33.3-percent) from the 3-point arc. SFU scored 26 points in the paint and converted 12 points off 10 MSUB turnovers.
Simon Fraser turned around its rebounding deficit in the second half and finished with 43 boards, compared to 45 for MSUB. The ‘Jackets shot 24-for-64 (37.5-percent) from the field, including 7-for-24 (29.2-percent) from long range. The Clan made a difference at the free throw line with 22 of 27 attempts made (81.5-percent).
GNAC TOURNAMENT INFORMATION: Montana State Billings snuck into the tournament as the No. 6 seed with a 9-11 conference mark (14-15 overall). The Yellowjackets return to the tournament after a one-year absence.
The GNAC Championships will start on Thursday with No. 3 Western Washington and No. 6 Montana State Billings going head-to-head at 5:15 p.m. The winner will face No. 2 Northwest Nazarene at 5:15 p.m. on Friday. No. 4 Simon Fraser and No. 5 Central Washington will play at 7:30 p.m. with the winner advancing to play No. 1 Alaska Anchorage at 7:30 p.m. on Friday. The championship game is scheduled to tip off at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“I’m just happy for this team and especially our seniors,” Woodin said. “We didn’t make the tournament a year ago and so that was our number one goal this year. When you put so much time all year in and it comes down to the final game, it’s stressful. It ended up working out for us and I’m just excited to head to Seattle to play in the tournament because anytime you can make the top-six in our league, you know you are a good team.”
Tickets for the GNAC Championships can be purchased online at GNACTickets.com. Live webcasts of all tournament games will be available through the conference’s streaming portal, GNAC.tv. The GNAC Women’s Basketball Championships will be played in conjunction with the GNAC Men’s Basketball Championships, which will also be played at Seattle Pacific from March 5-7.
COACH WOODIN ON SENIORS WILLIAMS, CUNNINGHAM, AND LEMELIN: “Our seniors have meant a lot to me personally and I trust them tremendously on and off the court. They do all the little things well and they are excellent people and role models for our younger players. Ten of our 14 players being are underclassmen this year with just isn’t typical and I know that our senior leadership was a major reason for us making the post-season.”
THE BUZZ: Shayla Montague was named St. Vincent Healthcare player of the game with 14 points and nine rebounds…MSUB continued its trends of qualifying for the post-season in every even numbered year since 2010…MSUB and SFU split their season series head-to-head after the ‘Jackets defeated the Clan in Burnaby on December 5, 73-70…The Yellowjackets are 0-2 this season against Western Washington University.