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MSU Billings women rally past Northwest Nazarene; men fall in OT

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Posted at 8:43 AM, Dec 03, 2021

(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)

BILLINGS - A 31-point fourth quarter keyed a come-from-behind, 71-67 victory for the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team on Thursday evening at Alterowitz Gym, as the hosts started Great Northwest Athletic Conference play with a win over visiting Northwest Nazarene University.

The Yellowjackets (6-4, 1-0 GNAC) trailed by as much as 15 points in the third quarter, but came to life late making all five of their 3-pointers in the fourth and holding off the Nighthawks down the stretch. “This was a huge win for us against a quality opponent,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “I was proud of our team for the fight they showed, especially in the fourth quarter. We finally made some 3-point shots and once we get our inside and outside game going, we are tough to guard.”

Taryn Shelley led MSUB with 22 points on 9-for-17 shooting including a mark of 3-for-4 from the perimeter. Addison Gardner and Dyauni Boyce added 10 points apiece, and Shayla Montague hit three clutch 3-pointers for nine key points as well. The ‘Jackets, who shot 16.4 percent (9-for-55) from long distance during their three-game losing streak entering the game, made 9 of 19 treys (47.4 percent) on the evening. “Taryn and Dyauni were tough around the basket tonight and Taryn’s three threes were at key times too,” said Woodin. “I thought Addison was effective on both ends and Shayla came through with some big-time threes in the final quarter. Kortney did a solid job defensively too.”

Northwest Nazarene (4-3, 0-1) was led by a game-high 25 points and 11 rebounds from Nyalam Thabach, who made 10 of 17 field goals while adding two blocks and two steals. Jordan Pinson added a dozen points and Teagan Thurman had 11 to go along with six rebounds for the visitors. “We had a rough start in the beginning, but in the second half we were able to push the ball up the floor and get back into it,” said freshman Kortney Nelson, who finished with a team-high six rebounds. “The last few minutes were pretty awesome. We came back into the game and made it a good one.”

With the ‘Jackets trailing by three and 5:45 to go in the game, Gardner connected on a trey on an assist from Nelson that pulled the score even at 57-57. MSUB led the rest of the game – albeit never by more than two possessions as the Nighthawks stayed in it until the waning seconds. NNU’s best chance to take the lead came on a turnover with 32 seconds left, but Thurman couldn’t convert a breakaway layup as the ‘Jackets dodged a bullet and clung to a 68-67 advantage.

Nelson took a charge with four seconds left, and persistent MSUB defense led to a five-second violation with two seconds left as the Nighthawks squandered a pair of last-second chances for a game-tying bucket. Free throws by Boyce, Danielle Zahn, and Cariann Kunkel in the final 10 seconds helped seal MSUB’s first conference win of the year. “Our captains did a nice job of keeping our team together when we were down,” Woodin said. “Once we started hitting shots, the momentum changed and it was a fun atmosphere down the stretch. We made enough free throws to finish the game but need to be a little better in that area.”

Shelley hit the first bucket of the night – a 3-pointer – but it was MSUB’s only lead of an otherwise one-sided first half of play. Thabach was nearly unstoppable under the basket, making 8 of 10 field goals en route to 17 points in the opening 20 minutes. The Yellowjackets kept pace and cut the deficit to six midway through the second quarter, but NNU finished the half on a 7-0 run to take a 35-22 advantage into the locker room. “NNU really took it to us early,” Woodin said regarding the first half. “Thabach was great in the first half and we were too stagnant on offense. We needed to attack their pressure better than we did. We can’t settle for perimeter shots when we are not hitting.”

NNU maintained its double-digit lead throughout the third quarter, with the score reading 51-40 at the outset of the fourth. But after making just 3 of 11 treys in the opening half, the ‘Jackets found their rhythm late. Montague set the tone with a three on the Yellowjackets’ first possession of the fourth quarter, and the hosts never looked back on their way to a 7-for-10 finish. “Defensively, we played very well in the second half,” Woodin said on limiting NNU to 10-for-28 shooting (35.7 percent) over the final 20 minutes. “We adjusted and played Thabach better and I thought we had some great defensive stops late in the game. Our bench was important tonight and our lineup we made our run in the second half with was a relatively new one. I was pleased with how they figured it out on the court and they were very determined.”

The Yellowjackets shot 40.0 percent overall (22-for-55), but missed opportunities from the foul line at 18-for-27 in the game (66.7 percent). The Nighthawks meanwhile finished with a shooting percentage of 43.6 (24-for-55), while shooting 35.0 percent from the arc (7-for-20) and 12-for-18 from the free-throw line (66.7 percent). NNU out-rebounded MSUB 39-32, but the Nighthawks committed 20 turnovers which led directly to 21 points for the ‘Jackets.

“It was a really aggressive game, and we have a lot of fight,” Nelson said. “It’s awesome. We were in a three-game losing streak and we broke that, and now we are going to get ready for this next game on Saturday.”

In men's action, despite rallying from a 12-point deficit and making critical defensive stands at the end of regulation and in overtime, MSUB's men fell short 68-67 in overtime against Northwest Nazarene.

“I thought we battled all night,” MSUB head coach Mick Durham said. “We just needed to hit some big shots down the stretch, although I thought we had some good looks. We fought hard to get it to overtime with a great drive to the basket by Damen Thacker.”

“We also had some good performances off the bench from Emmanuel Akpan and Emmanuel Ajanaku,” Durham added.

Damen Thacker’s coast-to-coast layup with five seconds left sent the game to overtime; he finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Carrington Wiggins scored a game-high 20 points for the Yellowjackets (2-4, 0-1 Great Northwest Athletic Conference), while the Nighthawks (1-3, 1-0 Great Northwest Athletic Conference) were led by Gabriel Murphy’s 14 points and 11 rebounds.

After shaking off a few empty possessions in the early goings, Bilal Shabazz went to work on the elbow, backed down his defenders and quickly gave MSUB a 4-0 lead off a pair of hook shots.

The Nighthawks went on an 8-0 run in retaliation, yet Carrington Wiggins and the offense put on a show.

First, Wiggins sent an NNU defender flying with an up-and-under layup before the first media timeout. Several minutes later, Damen Thacker seamed a low, cross-court bounce pass to a streaking Wiggins, whose tomahawk jam made the score 15-11, NNU. However, the Nighthawks would go on an 8-0 run before Emmanuel Ajanaku came off the bench and threw down back-to-back dunks.

Trailing 24-18 with 5:44 left, Thacker baited his defender into fouling him on a three-point attempt and sank all three free-throws. Thacker then found a wide-open Sam Elliott, who scored his first points of the season on a deep two, which sparked a 7-0 run late in the first half. Wiggins knifed through the Nighthawk defense again, then found Thacker for a transition three several moments later to pull MSUB within one, 28-27, then Emmanuel Akpan scored his first points of the night just before the buzzer sounded.

MSUB promptly tied the game at 31 on its first possession of the second half off a layup from Wiggins, but then the ‘Jacket offense went cold as the Nighthawks reclaimed a 37-31 lead.

Nicholas Sebastiao answered the call not once, but twice, dialing up corner jumpers to pull MSUB within one with 15:23 to go. The Nighthawks threatened to run away with it, but MSUB clawed back every time. Wiggins’ lone three of the night tied the game at 43, then the ‘Jackets took a 48-45 lead when Akpan muscled his way in the paint, grabbed his own miss out of a NNU defender’s hands, then went back up for a left-handed putback with 12:04 to go.

Both offenses stalled. NNU tied the game at 48 two minutes later, then inched ahead 50-48 with 8:38 left. But with both teams in the bonus, Thacker took advantage and brought MSUB within one, 51-50, before the penultimate media timeout. Thacker’s crafty eurostep split two defenders, Wiggins and Thacker made layups, then Malik Brikat cleaned up the offensive glass and finished through contact to put MSUB up 58-56 with 3:45 to go.

NNU had one more answer in regulation, scoring its final four points of the half in 58 seconds to take a 60-58 lead with 2:14 left. But the Yellowjacket defense put the clamps down on the Nighthawks, who went 0-for-2 with one turnover from that point forward. Threatening to put the dagger into the Yellowjackets, the Nighthawks took a three with 14 seconds left, but it was deflected out of bounds by Akpan. Two seconds remained on the shot clock, but Ajanaku forced a turnover, sending Thacker off to the races for his game-tying layup with five seconds left. NNU couldn’t get a shot off on its final possession, which brought the game to overtime.

On the first possession of overtime, Wiggins drew contact on a three, then sank all three free throws to give MSUB an early advantage. NNU, meanwhile, came up empty on its first two possessions, but the ‘Jackets did so too. The Nighthawks would tie the game at 63 with a corner three from Christian Rose, then took a 66-63 lead on Gabriel Murphy’s fourth three of the night with 2:25 to go.

Wiggins drove to the lane, drew contact and made both free throws to pull the ‘Jackets within one, but Rose responded on the other end, putting MSUB down three once more. With 1:25 left, Wiggins took a midrange corner jumper, but Shabazz skied in for the putback layup to make things 68-67, Nighthawks. But MSUB needed a stop.

Just like they did at the end of regulation, the Yellowjackets’ half-court defense tightened up on the next possession. This time, Akpan was the hero, blocking George Reidy’s jumper and nearly saving it inbounds. The Nighthawks tried finding Reidy again, but his jumper was short, leaving the Yellowjackets with five seconds left to go the length of the court on the final possession. Yet MSUB’s attempt at the game-winner was offline as time expired.