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MSU Billings men, women drop regular season finales

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Posted at 8:37 AM, Feb 28, 2022

(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)

NAMPA, Idaho – Closing out the Great Northwest Athletic Conference regular season, the Montana State University Billings men’s basketball team struggled taking care of the ball and making shots against the Northwest Nazarene Nighthawks in a 76-41 road loss on Saturday night.

The Yellowjackets (13-14, 9-8 GNAC) struggled from the field against the Nighthawks’ (12-8, 10-5 GNAC) defense, shooting only 24.6% from the floor and turning the ball over 15 times. Nicholas Sebastiao led the Yellowjackets with 12 points on 4-for-7 shooting, plus tied the team high with Damen Thacker with six rebounds. Carrington Wiggins was the only other Yellowjacket in double-figures with 10 points, five rebounds, three steals and one assist.

The Nighthawks out-shot MSUB from the jump. NNU connected on 50% of its shots in the first half – compared to MSUB’s 27.6% – and the ‘Jackets went 3-for-14 from three.

Both teams were locked in a low-scoring, high-turnover affair until Bilal Shabazz sparked a 5-0 MSUB run with a wide-open three. Nicholas Sebastiao then pulled up for a midrange jumper to give MSUB a 6-5 lead at the first media timeout. But a 9-0 run off four Yellowjacket turnovers put NNU in the driver’s seat.

MSUB’s offense went stagnant for almost four minutes until Jo Jones found Sam Elliott for a three to make the score 16-9, NNU. The Nighthawks would go on a 7-0 run – snapped by Sebastiao making a layup and getting fouled with 8:55 to go. Malik Brikat would track down the miss, giving MSUB an opportunity to cut into the lead, but the Yellowjackets turned it over and NNU would sink a three on the other end to take a 26-11 lead.

Sebastiao and Brikat would make layups to chip away at the deficit, then Damen Thacker hit a long three, but the Nighthawks responded to each MSUB basket and took a 33-18 lead with under four minutes to play. Carrington Wiggins’ second-chance attempt under the basket made it a 33-20 game at the final media timeout, yet the Nighthawks went on a 10-0 lead to close the first half.

Six empty possessions from the Yellowjackets and an 8-0 run from the Nighthawks opened up the second half before Wiggins’ made three at the 16:01 mark made it a 51-23 game. After two more Sebastiao free throws pulled the Yellowjackets within 25, Wiggins and Thacker helped carry the team late, scoring MSUB’s next nine points to make the score 60-34, NNU with 9:52 remaining.

Yet the ‘Jackets wouldn’t score for seven minutes. The Nighthawks went on a 14-0 run and took a 42-point lead with 2:54 to go until two free throws from Sebastiao snapped the drought. Free throws from Emmanuel Akpan, then another jumper from Sebastiao and Tyler Neary’s first point of his MSUB career capped off the scoring in the 76-41 loss.

The GNAC Men’s and Women's Basketball Championships tip off Wednesday.

Kortney Nelson scored a career-high 20 points on Saturday night but Northwest Nazarene University handed the MSUB women an 86-76 defeat in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference regular-season finale.

The Yellowjackets finished the regular season 16-11 overall and 10-5 in conference play, winding up in fifth place in the final GNAC standings which were determined using a points rating system on Saturday night. The Nighthawks went 18-8 during the regular season, and finished fourth in the GNAC standings with a league record of 12-6.

MSUB and NNU are set to square off in the quarterfinals of next week’s GNAC Championships, with tipoff set for noon (Pacific) at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Wash.

The Yellowjackets led the Nighthawks 43-41 at halftime of the high-scoring affair, but couldn’t keep pace over the final 20 minutes as NNU pulled away to level the season series between the teams. “We competed hard this week, but we didn’t play well in the fourth quarters and that was the difference in us going 0-2 instead of 2-0,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin after Thursday’s overtime loss at Central Washington. “We will work hard to get that figured out before Thursday. We have to get better point guard play in the games this coming week, and I believe we will.”

Taryn Shelley led the Yellowjackets with 21 points on 8-for-15 shooting, while adding a team-high nine rebounds in her 31 minutes on the floor. Nelson’s 20 points included a career-high four made 3-pointers, and she added two rebounds, three assists, and a steal. “Taryn is playing at a high level of efficiency on offense, and we will continue to look for her,” Woodin said on the senior’s third-straight 20-point performance and her sixth in the last seven games. “Kortney continues to impress me with her improved play, and has become a go-to player on both ends. I thought Chloe Williams gave us some great minutes tonight as well.”

Teagan Thurman led NNU with 19 points on 6-for-11 shooting, while Erin Jenkins scored 15 points on an efficient 6-for-9 shooting line. Ashlynn Sylve scored a dozen points and Nyalam Thabach added 11, and Jordan Pinson led all players with eight assists in the game. NNU won despite being out-rebounded 37-30, as it committed just 11 turnovers while forcing 15 by the ‘Jackets.

“NNU played well, and they are very talented,” said Woodin. “Both Jenkins and Thurman are hard to guard, and it is a tough place to play. We are looking forward to playing them again on Thursday, and we will be ready.”

A 22-17 first quarter in favor of the Nighthawks hinted that Saturday’s finale would be a high scoring affair, and the Yellowjackets responded with a 26-point second quarter to take the two-point cushion into halftime. Shayla Montague hit a three with 5:36 to go in the third quarter, giving the Yellowjackets a five-point advantage up 51-46.

The Nighthawks turned the tables after that however, and wrestled back momentum to take a 64-62 lead at the end of the third on a buzzer-beating jumper by Sylve. MSUB’s offense stalled at the outset of the fourth quarter, as NNU embarked on a 9-0 run to take a 73-64 advantage. The Yellowjackets never recovered, with NNU’s lead peaking at 17 points with 4:48 to go in the game.

“The game was played at a fast pace,” said Woodin. “We were very good, especially in the second quarter and I liked how we led at halftime. We struggled early with ball security, but figured it out. I liked our offensive rebounding tonight, but it is hard for us to win when we lose the 3-point line battle.”

MSUB shot 40.0 percent overall (24-for-60), while making 7 of 19 threes (36.8 percent) and 21 of 26 free throws (80.8 percent). The Nighthawks meanwhile shot an outstanding 50.8 percent (30-for-59), while making 10 of 26 threes (38.5 percent) and 16 of 19 foul shots (84.2 percent).

Montague finished with 10 points for the ‘Jackets, while Aspen Giese had six points, three assists, two steals, and a rebound in 22 minutes off the bench. Fellow freshman Chloe Williams was a major contributor with six boards off the bench, while adding two points and two assists. Senior Addison Gardner led the team with four assists.

Thursday will mark the fourth time that MSUB and NNU have met in the GNAC Championships, with the Yellowjackets holding a 2-1 advantage. The Nighthawks won the first playoff meeting 77-56 on March 1, 2012, before MSUB won 70-65 on March 3, 2016 and 76-69 on March 2, 2018 on its run to the 2018 NCAA D2 Elite Eight.