(MSU Billings release)
BURNABY, B.C. – Suffocating first half defense led to explosive second half offense as Montana State University Billings put in the final basket for a 73-70 win over Simon Fraser University in a Great Northwest Athletic Conference women’s basketball game Thursday night at West Gymnasium. Hannah Collins scored 27 points and sparked the Yellowjackets in the second half with four made 3-pointers in the final 20 minutes.
Taryn Shelley dominated the paint with 14 points and 11 rebounds and Taylor Cunningham was triumphant in her return to the lineup from injury with 18 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists. The game came down to the final possession. Emily St. John went 1-for-2 from the free throw line with 19 seconds left to give MSUB a 3-point advantage. Then St. John blocked a long-range jumper by SFU’s Jessica Jones and the teams scrambled for the rebound as the final seconds ticked off. The Yellowjackets held the high-powered Simon Fraser offense to just 21 points in the first half and received ample contribution from the bench in the third quarter when faced with foul trouble.
MSU Billings (4-4, 1-0 GNAC) extended their winning streak to four straight games and defeated the Clan in Burnaby for the first time since 2014.
“I am very proud of our entire team tonight,” commented MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “I felt our team chemistry was excellent on the road against a difficult opponent and we really fought hard so it was nice to come out on top.”
Both teams struggled to score in the opening minutes of the first quarter, but before long, Emily St. John and Taylor Cunningham began to find their range from the 3-point arc. Meanwhile, the Yellowjackets continued to disrupt the Clan offense into the early stages of the second quarter and opened a 16-point advantage 27-11 after a steal and a layup on a fast break by Jeanann Lemelin.
“I was real pleased with our effort, especially in the first 15 minutes of the game,” said Woodin. “We were locked in defensively and showed great intensity which ignited our offense. We also got the ball inside early, which helped our overall effectiveness.”
The Clan clamored back to a six-point deficit 27-21 at the break with seven points from Claudia Hart on 3-for-7 shooting. MSU Billings shot 27.5-percent in the first half and connected on four of 14 three-point attempts. Meanwhile, SFU shot 23.5-percent and 2-for-13 from beyond the arc.
SFU’s Tayler Drynen made a pair of impressive finger roll layups on either side of the basket and Jessica Jones dropped in a 3-pointer to give the Clan their first lead since the first quarter 42-41 with 3:49 left to play in the third quarter. A strong start to the fourth quarter by the Clan’s Kendal Sands led MSUB to call a quick timeout with the ‘Jackets trailing 54-51. SFU continued to score by committee and found mid-range success but Collins and TyLee Manuel helped MSUB counterpunch on the offensive end.
“Give Simon Fraser credit for fighting back because they earned it,” said Woodin. “It was nice to see our bench come in and contribute in the third quarter when we ran into foul trouble. We needed them and they delivered.”
Shelley continued to pound the glass late and Collins was red hot with 20 of her 27 points in the second half. Cunningham balanced the inside shooting with four 3-pointers made on five attempts and dished assists seemingly from everywhere. Tied 70-70 with under a minute to play, Cunningham rattled in a jump shot and the ‘Jackets forced a turnover with 26 ticks on the clock. After taking a timeout, the Clan fouled to send MSUB to the line. Emily St. John made one of two free throws with 17 seconds remaining to make it a 73-70 game. Jones then attempted an off-balance 3-pointer, blocked by St. John to end the game.
“Taylor Cunningham should get a lot of credit for the big shots she made all game as well as her outstanding passing,” Woodin said. “Hannah really came alive in the fourth quarter and her impressive offensive abilities helped us late in the game.”
Cunningham, a senior captain, had been sidelined due to injury since November 16, but made an invigorating return to the team Thursday with 18 points on seven field goals, seven assists, and two steals. Cunningham also went 4-for-5 from 3-point range.
TyLee Manuel chipped in six points in 11 minutes and shot 3-for-5 from the floor off the bench for the ‘Jackets. Manuel also made a key block late in the fourth quarter.
The Yellowjackets shot 27-percent in the first half but improved to 42-percent (29-for-68) by the final buzzer. The team also connected on 10-for-25 attempts from beyond the arc, including six made long-range jumpers in the second half.
“We had a good balance of scoring inside and outside tonight,” said Woodin. “I’m looking forward to playing another challenging team in Western Washington on Saturday.”
Simon Fraser (6-6, 1-1 GNAC) dropped its third home game this season and saw their run of three straight wins fall at the hands of the Yellowjackets. Jessica Jones led the Clan with 16 points (4-for-11) and grabbed nine rebounds. Off the bench, Emma Kramer scored 13 points (6-for-13). Sophie Klassen posted 11 points and eight rebounds.
The two teams traded the lead 10 times and MSUB led by a game high 16 points at 5:58 in the second half. Taryn Shelley’s double-double marked her fourth of the season, 10th of her career. Collins made it north of 20 points for the second straight game after putting away 22 against Chadron State on November 23. She was still five points shy of her career best 29-point total, achieved on two separate occasions.
The Yellowjackets continue their conference schedule with a trip to Bellingham, Washington, where they will face Western Washington University (4-3, 0-1 GNAC) Saturday, December 7 at 7 p.m. local time.
THE BUZZ: Taylor Cunningham was named St. Vincent Healthcare player of the game for MSU Billings…The Yellowjackets improved to 11-11 all-time versus Simon Fraser. The teams split the season series 1-1 in 2018-19.