(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)
ANCHORAGE, Alaska. – Despite an early barrage of threes, the Montana State University Billings men’s basketball team went cold in the second half and dropped a 64-57 Great Northwest Athletic Conference contest against Alaska Anchorage on Tuesday night.
“I really liked how we competed tonight against a good veteran team,” MSUB head coach Mick Durham said. “We hit big shots all night, but couldn’t in the last five minutes while Alaska Anchorage did. We’re glad this portion of the road trip is over. Damen Thacker was outstanding tonight and really carried us offensively.”
The Yellowjackets (10-11, 6-5 GNAC) led by as many as nine points in the first half after Damen Thacker and Carrington Wiggins got hot from beyond the arc. Yet the Seawolves (11-5, 6-3 GNAC) went on a 13-2 run in the final 6 minutes and 33 seconds to preserve their perfect 8-0 record at home this season.
Thacker had another complete performance, leading all players with 25 points on 9-for-17 shooting – including 7-for-11 from three – while adding four rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal. MSUB also got 13 points from Carrington Wiggins, plus a nine-point, six-rebound, five-assist night – the latter of which tied his MSUB career-high – from Bilal Shabazz, who made his third-straight start.
Determined to flip the script from last night’s low-scoring outing against Alaska, MSUB came out firing in the first half, sinking threes and finding open shooters around the perimeter with ease. Bolstered by baskets from Carrington Wiggins, Damen Thacker and Bilal Shabazz, the ‘Jackets got off to a hot start, opening the game shooting 5-for-6 before the first media timeout. Thacker’s second three of the day, then Emmanuel Ajanaku’s layup capped off a 7-0 run that quickly doubled up the Seawolves 18-9 with 13:57 to go. But three free throws from Seawolves guard AJ Garrity kickstarted a 9-0 run that tied the game.
Thacker continued his hot streak out of the second media timeout. Shabazz’s skip pass to a wide-open Thacker led to his third three of the night, then Thacker’s pump-fake sent a Seawolf defender flying before he canned another three in front of Alaska Anchorage’s bench. Yet UAA countered, then took a 25-24 lead at the 6:48 mark on a three from Hunter Sweet.
Ajanaku and Shabazz trapped Oggie Pantovic, forcing a travel on the Seawolves’ next possession, which led to yet another three from Thacker to retake the lead. Back-to-back threes from Alaska Anchorage made it a 31-27 ballgame in favor of the Seawolves, then Wiggins’ third three cut MSUB’s deficit to one. Both teams couldn’t score in the final three minutes of the first half, and the Seawolves took a 31-30 lead into halftime.
Wiggins’ layup with 19:21 to go in the second half not only opened the scoring for the ‘Jackets, but also put MSUB back in front 32-31. After Thacker made his sixth three of the night, the Yellowjackets and the Seawolves see-sawed on the next four possessions until the ‘Jackets went on a 6-0 run to get ahead 41-36. Hitting his seventh three of the night, Thacker gave MSUB a six-point lead with 16:13 to go. Alaska Anchorage responded, but then the game stalled at 46-41 for nearly two minutes.
Malik Brikat’s floater in the lane snapped the scoreless streak and gave MSUB a seven-point lead with 12:22 to play. Brikat then sank a pair of free throws to extend MSUB’s lead to 50-41, which was followed by Shabazz splitting a pair of free throws to make it a 51-43 game with 11:16 remaining.
Aside from those points the ‘Jacket offense stalled.
Alaska Anchorage went on a 5-0 run in 1 minute and 48 seconds, prompting a timeout from the Yellowjacket bench. Shabazz’s jumper snapped the scoreless drought, then Nicholas Sebastiao’s free throws helped give MSUB a little bit of breathing room with a 55-51 lead.
Things went south for the ‘Jackets from there. The Seawolves went on a 10-0 run until Shabazz made a jumper in the lane over two defenders to pull MSUB within four points with 1 minute and 45 seconds to play. Two empty possessions from MSUB and a dagger from Sweet with 26 seconds remaining closed the game.