BILLINGS — First game of a new season? There are always questions.
The Montana State Billings women answered a least a few of their own Thursday night in a 62-53 exhibition basketball victory over Rocky Mountain College in a renewal of the teams’ Rimrock Rivalry series at the Fortin Center.
Dyauni Boyce and Kortney Nelson each scored 17 points for the NCAA Division II Yellowjackets, who saw a 12-point third-quarter lead evaporate but had the gumption to hold off the NAIA Battlin’ Bears in the fourth.
“I was just thinking that we had to keep calm and just play our game,” Boyce said afterward. “We just did it as a team. We found each other on our open shots, and we did a great job working together.”
Rocky’s Kloie Thatcher twice gave Rocky the lead in the final quarter, but a 3-pointer by Winifred’s Boyce with 4:38 left gave the Yellowjackets the lead back at 52-51. Boyce later hit another 3 at the 2:55 mark to make it 57-51, and scored on a pretty give-and-go from Cariann Kunkel to push it to 61-53 with 1:07 left.
Nelson, meanwhile, had her own impact. The Scobey product scored a layup with 3:42 remaining to pad MSUB’s advantage to three points, and assisted on Boyce’s second 3 as the Yellowjackets took command.
“We started with a lot of nerves. I thought we played pretty nervous throughout the first half,” MSUB coach Kevin Woodin said. “But I thought we got better as the game progressed.
“Give them credit. Late third, early fourth they had a nice run on us. But after they took the lead at their place, we settled down and really had some good offensive possessions and got some stops to pull it out in the end.”
Rocky coach Wes Keller said MSUB played more cohesive than his new-look squad.
“We dug ourselves a hole in the third quarter but we battled back,” Keller said. “I thought Boyce and Nelson made big plays down the stretch. I thought we played hard. Offensively I thought we didn’t share it as well as we need to. We’ve just got to play together.”
One of the biggest questions facing the Yellowjackets was how they would handle the loss of veteran post and deft scorer Taryn Shelley, who suffered a leg injury during the MSUB alumni game last week.
Jackets coach Kevin Woodin said Shelley is expected to miss a significant chunk of the season. In the interim, Woodin thinks Boyce, a 5-foot-11 sophomore, could take another step in her development. She certainly showed it on Thursday.
But Boyce won’t be the only factor.
“What I like about our team is that we’re very balanced. We’ll run a set and we really don’t know which person is going to touch the ball,” said Woodin, whose team of in-state recruits went 17-12 a year ago. “But Dyauni hit a couple 3s there and Kortney was effective around the basket as well.
"For the first time to play without Taryn late in the game, I was very impressed with our players.”
Rocky was led Thatcher, a Butte Central product who got hot in the second half and finished with a team-high 15 points. Dominique Stephens added 12 points and five rebounds.
Coming off a 29-win season, the Bears’ roster is a mix of veteran players and new faces this season — one that will try to repeat last year’s Frontier Conference title and run to the Round of 8 at the NAIA national tournament.
A challenge facing Rocky is how they’ll find similar production in the wake of losing All-American N’Dea Flye and contributing senior Shauna Bribiescas.
“We’ll be fine,” Keller said. “We’re still trying to figure out what pieces go where and what combinations to play. Bottom line, you’re not going to win many games when you score 53 points.”