(MSU Billings release)
BILLINGS – Five double-figure scorers helped the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team break out of a shooting slump, as the Yellowjackets held on for a wild 86-84 win over Great Northwest Athletic Conference opponent Central Washington University Saturday evening at Alterowitz Gym.
After trailing 40-37 at halftime, MSUB turned the tables in the second and set up a back-and-forth fourth quarter. One of 10 made free throws on the night by senior Alisha Breen made the score 72-71 with 5:34 to go, which proved to be a lead the Yellowjackets never wound up relinquishing.
The Wildcats kept within two possessions however, and had a chance to tie the game with three seconds left. CWU got the ball in bounds, but a wild trey attempt by Taylor Baird glanced off the backboard as time expired. “When Central is on they are as good as anyone in the league, and they really just took it to us early,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “I am really proud of our team for responding to adversity, and we are really happy with this win.”
Breen finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds, completing her eighth double-double of the season. Rylee Kane just missed her first career double-double, with 17 points and nine assists. Vanessa Stavish had 14 points, and Lexi Prevost was also in double figures with 11.
Coming off their lowest shooting percentage of the year in Thursday’s loss to Northwest Nazarene (28.1 percent), MSUB shot 49.1 percent from the field (28-for-57) including a stellar mark of 12-for-21 from long range. Prevost, Hannah Collins, and Stavish each connected three times from the arc, and MSUB matched its second-highest team assists total of the year with 21 on the night.
The ‘Jackets put to rest a two-game skid, and improved to 12-6 overall and 5-3 in conference play.
Sadie Mensing matched Breen with 20 points, and tied for the CWU lead in rebounds with seven. Baird and Beverly Verduin each had a dozen points, while Kaelie Flores finished with 11 points and seven rebounds for the ‘Cats. CWU fell to 8-8 overall and an even 4-4 mark in league play.
MSUB’s recent shooting woes appeared to be carrying over early in the game, as the Yellowjackets scored just five points in the first seven minutes of the game. On a night where Collins scored a season-high 15 points, her first make of the evening was perhaps the biggest for the team. The Great Falls, Mont., native drained a trey from the wing, and went on to score seven more points in the final three minutes of the opening quarter.
In the Yellowjackets’ final possession of the period, Collins drove in, kicked the ball to Jeanann Lemelin in the corner, and watched as another three fell to make the deficit just 24-19 after 10 minutes of play. “We all had a lot of confidence during a stressful game, and it feels good to get a win out of it,” Kane said. “We started slow, but we came out each quarter starting in the second trying to get ahead. Both Jeanann and Hannah were big sparks for us out there, and it is good to have a little bit of energy off the bench.”
The momentum Collins helped establish carried into the second quarter, as the ‘Jackets continued to chip away and work themselves back into the game. Stavish drained a three from the top of the key with just over a minute to go in the first, pulling MSUB to within a single possession down 38-35.
It was Prevost’s turn to be the difference maker right after halftime, as she had two assists and a steal in consecutive possessions to cut the score to 44-43. The senior didn’t stop there however, finding nothing but net from three on MSUB’s next offensive possession to give her team its first lead of the game at 46-44.
Rebuilding an eight-point lead with 10 seconds to go in the third, it took another big shot this time by Taylor Cunningham to keep MSUB afloat. The sophomore got open at the top of the arc and buried her lone three of the game on an assist from Stavish to keep it at a two possession score.
Another Stavish three with 7:30 left in the game pulled MSUB within one down 65-64, and the junior followed by taking a charge on the next possession to get a stop for the ‘Jackets.
Breen had an offensive rebound and hit both free throws after being fouled, then blocked a shot on the next possession. Collins gave the lead back to MSUB with a corner three that made it 69-68 with six minutes to go, and the ‘Jackets converted consistently down the stretch to hold on to the advantage.
MSUB out-rebounded CWU 36-31 on the evening, while each team limited its turnovers to 14. CWU shot 48.4 percent overall (30-for-62) and was nearly as prolific as MSUB from the arc at 10-for-25 (40.0 percent).
THE BUZZ: Collins was named the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…her previous season high was 10 points…the nine assists for Kane were a season high…Breen moved to No. 10 in GNAC history with 1,578 points, passing Leada Berkey of Western Oregon (1,558 points) and Megan Hingston of Northwest Nazarene (1,576 points) on Saturday…the ‘Jackets are 23-11 all-time against the Wildcats and are 11-4 in home games…MSUB has won nine of the last 12 since 2012.
AHEAD: The ‘Jackets hit the road next week, heading west to Oregon for two more conference games. Thursday MSUB plays at Western Oregon at 6:15 p.m. Mountain time, before a 6:15 p.m. tipoff at Concordia University on Saturday.