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MSU Billings men fall on Senior Night; place 5 on GNAC All-Academic Team

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Posted at 8:44 AM, Feb 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-21 10:44:13-05

(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)

BILLINGS – The Montana State University Billings tried trudging back after trailing by double-figures against Simon Fraser, but the Yellowjackets fell short on their Senior Night in a 75-64 loss.

“Simon Fraser played great from start to finish,” MSUB head coach Mick Durham said. “They threw the first punch, and as much as we tried to hang around and rally in the second half, they were solid in the last five minutes. It was a disappointing night for us, but credit Simon Fraser for being the better team tonight.”

On his Senior Night, Damen Thacker led the Yellowjackets (12-13, 8-7 GNAC) with 20 points, five rebounds and three assists. Carrington Wiggins added 17 points, three assists and two steals and Nicholas Sebastiao rounded out the double-figure scorers with 12 points on 4-for-7 shooting.

Prior to the game, MSUB honored seniors Sam Elliott, Brent Finn and the aforementioned Thacker. All three seniors saw the floor in their last game in Alterowitz Gym. Finn finished with two points, two rebounds, two assists and a steal, whereas Elliott logged four minutes in the contest.

Damen Thacker had a hot start to his Senior Night, sinking back-to-back threes to help MSUB get ahead 6-5. Simon Fraser rattled off an 8-0 run to pull out in front, but Carrington Wiggins' first basket of the night momentarily limited the damage.

Yet Simon Fraser kept MSUB at arm's length thanks to its three-point shooting, going 5-for-11 in the first half despite going into the game shooting 29.6% from three.

MSUB got a lift from its backcourt, as Wiggins found Finn for his first basket of the night. Then Thacker curled around a screen for a midrange jumper at the 10:12 mark, bringing MSUB within two possessions trailing 16-12. Another 7-0 run from Simon Fraser ended on yet another basket from Thacker, who accounted for 10 of MSUB's 14 points as the 'Jackets trailed 23-14.

After trading threes, MSUB got a rise out of the home crowd on Emmanuel Ajanaku’s transition dunk with 5:41 to go, then threes from Thacker and Wiggins on consecutive possessions cut SFU’s lead to four points. MSUB would cut the lead to four once more in the first half as Wiggins found Nicholas Sebastiao for a three in front of Simon Fraser’s bench with 18 seconds left, but SFU center Julian Roche sank a three at the buzzer to give his team a 38-31 advantage at halftime.

The Yellowjackets sped up the tempo early in the second half, as both teams traded baskets in the first four minutes. Bilal Shabazz opened up the scoring for MSUB, Thacker hit another field goal, then Ajanaku dunked on Roche again in transition to fire up the crowd. Wiggins cut SFU’s lead to seven points on two occasions – first on a transition layup, and then with a pair of free throws – yet both teams cooled off over the next few minutes.

Trailing 51-42 with 12:54 remaining, Sebastiao bolted to the rim and finished a tough, left-handed layup to snap MSUB’s scoreless drought, then Malik Brikat tracked down an offensive rebound and scored to make it 53-46, Simon Fraser. Cutting into SFU’s seven-point lead was a Herculean effort until Finn and Sebastiao’s pick-and-pop on the left wing cut SFU’s lead to four, 59-55.

Out of the under-eight media timeout, Wiggins picked Josiah Mastandrea’s pocket and threw down a tomahawk jam to pull MSUB within four, 61-57, then Sebastiao’s second left-handed layup made it a 62-59 ballgame with 6:09 remaining. But this was as close as MSUB got. Simon Fraser went on a 10-0 run in five minutes to pull away from the Yellowjackets. Two free-throws from Sebastiao, Thacker posting up a smaller defender on MSUB’s penultimate possession, then Thacker splitting a pair of free-throws closed out the scoring for the ‘Jackets in a 75-64 loss.

The Yellowjackets wrap up GNAC play on the road against Central Washington and Northwest Nazarene next Thursday and Saturday. Thursday’s game against Central Washington starts at 7:30 p.m. local time.

And for the first time in program history, five players made the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s All-Academic Men’s Basketball team.

Senior forward Sam Elliott, sophomore forward Jimmy Brown and second-year freshmen Anders Epperly, Tyler Neary and Grant Tully were MSUB’s honorees. In order to earn academic all-conference status, players needed to have a cumulative grade-point-average of 3.20 or higher, compete in the season and be in at least their second year in the program.

“All of those guys do a great job of taking pride in their classwork,” MSUB head coach Mick Durham said. “I’m excited for them to get the very deserving recognition for not only themselves, but also our program.”

Elliott was MSUB’s only repeat all-academic winner this season; he earned Academic All-GNAC honors during the 2020-21 season as well. The senior from Kalispell, Mont. has a 3.98 GPA and will graduate with a degree in business administration with a focus in finance this spring. This season, Elliott has averaged 10.5 minutes per game and has seen time in 13 contests. His season-high eight points came during the second-half of MSUB’s game against Rocky Mountain College on Dec. 11.

Brown, a management major from Chandler, Ariz., has started in 12 of the 20 games in which he has played this season. He grabbed a MSUB-career-high seven rebounds in the Yellowjackets’ win over Holy Names on Nov. 13, 2021, plus he has averaged 1.8 points and 2.5 rebounds in 13.6 minutes per game.

Playing most of his minutes as MSUB’s backup point guard, Epperly has appeared in 10 games this season, averaging 6.3 minutes per game. The Bigfork, Mont. native is majoring in Health and Human Performance and has a 3.56 GPA. Epperly most recently set career-highs with five points, two assists and one steal in 15 minutes at Alaska Fairbanks on Feb. 7.

Neary is a Health and Human Performance major with a 3.69 GPA who has seen time in six games this season, whereas Tully is a business administration major with a 3.85 GPA.