(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS - Led by Carrington Wiggins’ game-high 24 points – of which came in the second half – the Montana State University Billings men’s basketball team used a strong second-half showing to put away Rocky Mountain College in the Fortin Center on Thursday.
“It was a pretty rough first half, offensively – give Rocky credit for coming after us,” MSUB head coach Mick Durham said. “We made some shots in the second half, Carrington Wiggins and Damen Thacker got going and we stayed solid defensively. I thought we had some good contributions off the bench from Sam Elliott, Emmanuel Ajanaku and Emmanuel Akpan.”
The Yellowjackets (3-5, 1-1 Great Northwest Athletic Conference) scored 10 points after the final media timeout of the first half, which helped them find their footing, then the team came out firing on offense – all while holding the Battlin’ Bears (4-5, 0-2 Frontier Conference) to just 7-for-21 shooting in the second half. All told, eight of the 10 ‘Jackets who logged minutes scored, plus five different players finished with at least five rebounds.
A whopping 20 of Wiggins’ 24 points came in the second half en route to setting a MSUB career-high, but also his eighth-straight game scoring in double-figures. Damen Thacker added 18 points and tied Wiggins for the team high of six rebounds, plus Nicholas Sebastiao added seven points, five rebounds and three steals.
Both teams started out slow in the first half until Damen Thacker’s elbow jumper off the dribble sparked a 6-0 MSUB run. After Thacker’s first three of the night put MSUB up 9-2, the ‘Jacket offense went cold; multiple attempts at the rim couldn’t quite connect, plus the Battlin’ Bears defense was physical inside and forced several turnovers. Although both teams struggled to find their rhythm in the early goings, Rocky Mountain took a 11-9 lead with 12:24 left; this quickly became a 20-11 advantage for the Battlin’ Bears. Yet Jimmy Brown came through at the free-throw line, then his hook shot in the paint helped MSUB chip away at Rocky’s lead.
With less than four minutes to play, both teams snapped out of their offensive struggles, but – critically – MSUB closed the first half shooting 4-of-6 from the field. Nicholas Sebastiao tied the game at 22 off a pass from Anders Epperly, then Epperly drew a charge on the next play, preventing a wide-open layup. Sebastiao tied the game again at 24-all with 63 seconds to play, but a three from the Battlin’ Bears and a free throw from Emmanuel Ajanaku gave the home team a slim 27-25 advantage at the break.
But coming out of the locker room, MSUB flipped the script by scoring six points within the first two minutes to reclaim a 32-30 lead. The ‘Jackets worked the ball inside in the early goings of the first half: Malik Brikat, Sam Elliott and Emmanuel Ajanaku all chipped in with points in the paint as MSUB kept pace with Rocky.
With 12:30 to go, Sebastiao hit a three to give MSUB a 41-39 lead, sparking a 9-0 run that ultimately decided the game. Everything was clicking: Elliott found a cutting Emmanuel Akpan for an easy lay-in, Thacker and Wiggins kept hitting shots, then Wiggins’ three with 8:40 to go gave the ‘Jackets a 50-41 lead – its largest up until that point.
But Wiggins was the star of the second half. The junior guard scored 20 second-half points – including 12 straight points for MSUB in a five-minute span – to help put away Rocky for good. In the closing minutes, Thacker hit back-to-back threes, then Wiggins’ layup gave MSUB a 67-50 lead with 21 seconds left; a pair of Rocky free throws capped off the scoring in MSUB’s 67-52 rout.\
MSUB hosts Rocky Mountain College for the final home non-conference game of the season this Saturday at 5:15 p.m.