(MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – A boost from the bench came at just the right time Thursday night, helping the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team top visiting Saint Martin’s University 69-61 in Great Northwest Athletic Conference action at Alterowitz Gym.
With the score tied at 36-36 just after halftime, MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin looked to his bench with five substitutions. Freshman point guard Hannah Collins helped architect the much-needed run for the ‘Jackets, with a big three and assists on the next two baskets that pushed the home team ahead again 44-38.
Saint Martin’s kept the game close throughout the second half, and again got to a single possession when Jayla Russ hit a three with four minutes left to make the score 58-55. MSUB clamped down from there however, securing its fourth consecutive win with an 11-6 scoring push to end the game.
Alisha Breen led all players with a 20-point, 12-rebound double-double, and also had five assists in 34 minutes for the ‘Jackets. Vanessa Stavish also reached double figures with 11 points, while senior Rylee Kane tied Collins for the team lead in assists with six.
“Our bench was really key for us tonight in the second half, and I was really proud of those players who helped stretch the lead,” commented MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “Overall I thought we played a little tight, but we were able to get the win. Give Saint Martin’s credit, as they played very inspired tonight.”
MSUB maintained solid position in the GNAC standings with the win, keeping pace with the conference leaders and moving to 8-3 in league action. The Yellowjackets are now 15-6 overall, and are in fourth place with nine games left to play in the regular season.
Makenna Schultz had 19 points on 7-for-12 shooting for the Saints, while Russ finished with 17 points and eight rebounds. Freshman Saniah Simpson-Patu notched 16 points and just missed a double-double, leading her team with nine boards on the night. The Saints dropped to 6-14 overall and 2-10 in conference play with the loss.
MSUB got off to a sluggish start, while the Saints built an early 8-0 lead over the first four minutes of the game. The ‘Jackets responded with an 8-0 run of their own to even the score, during which Taylor Cunningham and Jeanann Lemelin each knocked down 3-pointers.
The ‘Jackets hit just four of their first 21 shots in the game and trailed 12-11 at the end of the opening quarter. Stavish started the second with her second three of the night, and the ‘Jackets built a 31-23 lead by halftime.
A rough start to the second half by MSUB allowed SMU to sneak back into the game, and a three-point play by Mercedes Victor evened the score at 36-36. Collins scored five of her seven points on the night during the key run by MSUB’s bench, which also yielded a three from Brina Hull and a jumper by Janessa Williams.
By the end of the quarter, MSUB had its largest lead of the night to that point as Kane finished the period with a jumper to make the score 51-41. Back-to-back layups by Stavish and Breen to start the fourth extended the spread to 14 points, but SMU went on a 14-3 run capped of by Russ’s big three.
Kane found Cunningham in the corner for a big three with 1:30 to go, lifting the Yellowjackets to a 66-59 advantage. The Saints never got within two possessions for the rest of the night, and shot just 20.0 percent (5-for-25) in the second half.
The Yellowjackets played solid defense, holding the Saints to 6-for-20 from beyond the arc (30.0 percent) on the evening. MSUB also won the battle of the boards 46-38, and had 13 second-chance points on 15 offensive rebounds.
Overall MSUB shot 39.4 percent from the field (26-for-66) and made 11 of 31 threes (35.5 percent), but was uncharacteristically poor from the foul line at just 6-for-12. By contrast, SMU made 19 of 26 free throws, garnering a significant amount of its point total from the foul line.
THE BUZZ: Collins was tabbed the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…Collins six assists were a season high, topping her previous mark of three assists…SMU was without leading scorer Elin Johansson due to an injury…MSUB is now 27-11 all-time against the Saints, and is 15-2 in home games…the ‘Jackets have now won 11 straight home games in the series…Kane moved to No. 6 in GNAC history with the 109th start of her career…Breen moved to No. 9 in GNAC history and No. 3 in MSUB history in scoring, pushing her career points total to 1,634…the double-double was the 10th of the year for Breen and the 17th of her career.
COMING UP: The Yellowjackets are set for a showdown with second-place Seattle Pacific University on Saturday night, with major GNAC standings implications hanging in the balance. MSUB will look for vengeance after a 70-61 loss in Seattle on Dec. 28, and tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at Alterowitz Gym. Live video with play-by-play commentary and live statistics will be available online through MSUB’s Stretch Internet portal here.