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MSU Billings men, women pick up weekend wins

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Posted at 11:27 AM, Jan 17, 2022

(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)

BILLINGS — Two big defensive stands and a career-high 28 points from Carrington Wiggins helped give the Montana State University Billings men’s basketball team a 67-54 win over the visiting Seattle Pacific University Falcons in a Great Northwest Athletic Conference game on Saturday night.

“We found a way to win,” MSUB head coach Mick Durham said. “We were trying to get our bearings against a good team, we got into some foul trouble. Then in the second half from the start, we were much better defensively, we got stops and Carrington Wiggins had an unbelievable game scoring wise. We needed all of those points.”

The Yellowjackets (7-8, 3-2 GNAC) held the Falcons (8-7, 1-3 GNAC) scoreless for the final 6 minutes and 16 seconds of the first half, then put the clamps down in the second half with a 17-0 run over the course of 9 minutes and 45 seconds to seal the victory.

The win a three-game losing streak to the Falcons dating back to the 2018-19 season. It was also an upset of the 10th-ranked team in the GNAC Preseason Poll over an SPU team picked to repeat as conference champions after the Falcons won in 2019-20.

“It felt great,” Wiggins said of the win. “They were picked as the number one team in the conference in the preseason, and it felt great. Honestly, we can play with any team out there and it felt good to win on our home court.”

Senior guard Brent Finn finished with 11 points – most of which came off clutch free throws as SPU tried clawing back into the game. Malik Brikat also scored in double-figures with 10 points, plus he added a game-high eight rebounds, six of which were on the offensive end.

Nicholas Sebastiao’s first field goal of the night gave MSUB an early lead, but Seattle Pacific came out firing in the first half. The Falcons connected on three of their first four three-point attempts, yet the ‘Jackets had a balanced offensive effort with five different players scoring in the first six minutes.

Seattle Pacific took a 20-12 lead with 12:41 remaining in the first half, but Wiggins finished a layup through contact and made the ensuing free-throw. On the next possession, MSUB forced a bad pass, then Bilal Shabazz stepped out and sank a three to make it a one-possession game. The Falcons threatened to pull away once more until Malik Brikat corralled in a miss, then went back up to make the score 23-22, SPU with 7:45 left. However, this would be the closest things got for MSUB for quite some time.

SPU went on a 9-0 run over the next 90 seconds, capping off their run by converting on a four-point play that took the air out of the gym. But the ‘Jackets – who were playing down two starters in early foul trouble – tightened up their defense, holding the Falcons scoreless for the final 6 minutes and 16 seconds of the half as Wiggins and Shabazz kept up the scoring. The duo scored the Yellowjackets’ final six points of the half to make it a 31-28 game at halftime.

That defensive intensity carried over into the second half, as the ‘Jackets held SPU without a field goal on its first five possessions. Meanwhile, Wiggins didn’t cool off. The junior guard opened the scoring with a midrange corner jumper, then his nifty up-and-under move two possessions later gave MSUB a 34-32 lead with 17:01 to go.

Wiggins and SPU guard Divant’e Moffitt – the GNAC’s leading scorer – traded baskets over the next few minutes. As the game see-sawed, Wiggins found his touch from three, sinking two-straight threes that put him over the 20-point mark and gave the ‘Jackets a 42-38 lead.

“I was feeling it,” Wiggins said. “Honestly, the ball felt good coming out of my hands. I’ve been working for this – all the hours in the gym, working out every day. It felt good. It’s nothing new for me.”

With 14:12 to go, SPU made a pair of free-throws to make it a 42-40 game. The Falcons wouldn’t get closer.

MSUB stayed solid on defense, trapped SPU on the perimeter and forced an already shorthanded Falcons team to use its reserves to get something going in the second half.

Meanwhile, the ‘Jackets got a lift from Brent Finn and the aforementioned Shabazz off the bench. Finn turned the corner off an Ajanaku screen for a floater. Shabazz backed down his man for a hook shot. Finn drove through the SPU defense again and his layup rolled in. Then Wiggins eclipsed his MSUB career-high on his third three of the half to give the ‘Jackets a 51-40 lead with 10:22 to go.

“They were at 40 [points] for a while,” Durham said. “It was unbelievable.”

Yet SPU still didn’t have an answer. Sam Elliott sank a pair of free throws, Brikat scored again off another offensive rebound, then Shabazz’s eighth point of the night gave MSUB a 17 point lead with 4:40 left. Finally, after holding SPU scoreless for nearly 10 minutes, the Falcons got on the board, cutting MSUB’s lead to 15 with 4:27 to go.

The Falcons tried mounting a comeback by forcing turnovers with their full-court press, then by letting Moffitt drive at will, but SPU could only get within seven points. Finn went 6-for-6 from the line in the final 49 seconds to put away the Falcons.

“It was great,” Wiggins said of Finn’s poise at the free throw line. “He’s one of my best friends on the team. He’s a really good guy, and I’m glad he came up big for us because we needed it.”

Meantime, MSUB's women held its opponent to the lowest point total since the 2003-04 season blasting Saint Martin’s University 55-31 on the road in Great Northwest Athletic Conference play.

The point total allowed was the fewest by an MSUB team since a 79-31 win over Green Mountain on Jan. 17, 2004, the season before 18th-year head coach Kevin Woodin was appointed to his current position. “We played excellent team defense tonight,” said Woodin after the lowest point total allowed in his tenure in charge of the ‘Jackets. “Our post defense was great but we also got out to the perimeter and guarded the 3-point line well. Our effort was outstanding, and a lot of the loose balls were going our way. It was really fun to watch us outscore them for four consecutive quarters on the road.”

All 11 Yellowjackets who played on Saturday scored in the wire-to-wire victory, with Taryn Shelley leading the way at 10 points and seven rebounds. Shayla Montague hit three 3-pointers on her way to nine points, and Dyauni Boyce made 4 of 5 field goals to contribute eight points. MSUB elevated its record to 9-8 with the win, and improved to 3-2 in conference action. Saint Martin’s meanwhile fell to 9-4 overall and is now 1-3 in league play.

Lauryn Morris led the Saints with 11 points on 4-for-8 shooting, and Tierney DeDonatis was the other SMU player to hit multiple field goals at 3-for-11 for six points. SMU shot just 23.9 percent in the game (11-for-46), and went 0-for-12 from 3-point range.

Morris made a layup at the 1:53 mark in the first quarter to pull the Saints within a point down 7-6, but the ‘Jackets quickly embarked on a 9-0 run to develop a 10-point lead at the outset of the second quarter. SMU never got closer than six points the rest of the runaway game, with MSUB leading 26-16 at halftime and never looking back.

“I was proud of our team,” Woodin said, as the Yellowjackets bounced back well from Friday’s 66-57 loss at Western Oregon. “We had a film session today after our shoot-around where we studied our opponent, and Alisha (Breen) and Sven (Jeuschede) prepared our team well. We also watched half our game from last night, and felt we learned a lot, like how close we were to doing the right thing.”

MSUB out-rebounded Saint Martin’s 32-31 and committed 10 turnovers, while the Saints had 22 giveaways. Claire Dingus led all players with 10 rebounds, while Emily Nelson had eight and Morris added seven for the Saints.

The Yellowjackets relied on their stout defense on a night where they didn’t shoot particularly well, hitting at 32.2 percent overall (19-for-59), 22.2 percent from 3-point range (4-for-18), and making 13 of 17 foul shots (76.5 percent). Cariann Kunkel finished with seven points and four rebounds, Danielle Zahn added six points, and Shannon Reny chipped in four points and five rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench. Aspen Giese had the first and last point of the night – both coming at the foul line – and hauled in four rebounds to finish one off her season high in the category.

“I thought we passed the ball much better, and had great offensive balance inside and outside,” Woodin said. “It was nice to play everybody; everybody scored and made contributions on the defensive end, and it was a great team win. It is one that will give us momentum going forward, as we take on a very good Anchorage team on Monday.”