(MSU Billings release)
BILLINGS – Looking to earn an upset over the top team in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference and the No. 4 team in the nation, the Montana State University Billings Yellowjackets (3-10 GNAC) came out firing against the No. 4 Western Oregon Wolves (21-1, 13-1 GNAC). After holding an eight point advantage at the half, MSUB was outscored 37-18 in the final 20 minutes as the Wolves left Billings with the 71-60 victory.
“I thought our guys fought incredibly hard tonight,” head coach Jamie Stevens said after the game. “They are a national championship caliber team and we had to do some different things tonight. We may have settled for more threes than we should have but I thought at times we were being aggressive and getting to the rim. We just didn’t make enough plays in the second half against a great team.”
Eight first-half 3-pointers guided a Yellowjacket offense that shot 56.7 percent while committing just five turnovers in the period. Zack Rollins had 13 points in the first half making his first appearance off the bench this season after starting the previous 23 games for MSUB.
Stevens implored a new starting five featuring Kendall Denham, Kobe Terashima, Hafeez Abdul, Zharon Richmond and Jordan Perry. The lineup held their own against the versatile Wolves lineup with each unit scoring 19 points in the first 20 minutes. That allowed a hot-shooting bench unit of Rollins, Tyler Green and Sven Jeuschede to give MSUB 23 points off the bench in the first half.
“We just wanted to start guys who were going to come out and be tough,” Stevens said of the lineup change. “They had a lot of energy and challenged Western Oregon early, that’s what we needed. Zack and Tyler responded very well coming off of the bench for us and made some big plays.”
A 3-pointer from Perry gave the Yellowjackets the largest lead of the night 40-25 with three minutes remaining in the first half. Western Oregon answered with a 9-2 run that would cut the lead to eight.
The Wolves started the second half on another 9-2 run and slowly chipped away at the MSUB lead. When Western Oregon grabbed a 48-47 lead with 12:59 remaining in the game it was the first time since 12:16 in the first half that the ‘Jackets didn’t hold a lead.
Green claimed the final lead of the night with a pair of 3-pointers that had MSUB up 55-52 with just over 10 minutes left to play but the WOU defense would stifle any chance at the upset.
The Yellowjackets shot 22.5 percent in the second half as a bevy of good looks didn’t find the net. MSUB didn’t make a single free throw in the game as they shot 0-for-4 as WOU made 8 of 12 attempts from the line. The ‘Jackets committed a season low eight turnovers in the game.
Rollins finished the night leading all scorers with 20 points followed by Green with 14. Abdul led the ‘Jackets on the glass with six rebounds while adding four points.
MSUB recorded 14 assists led by Richmond with a season-best five. Denham finished the night with 10 points, three assists and no turnovers in 32 minutes of action.
Tanner Omlid led the Wolves with 14 points, seven rebounds and two steals in the game. WOU finished the night with four players in double figures compared to six in the ‘Jackets’ previous meeting with them in January. In the second half, the Wolves collected a 26-10 rebound advantage as they controlled the glass.
On Saturday night the Yellowjackets will host the Concordia Cavaliers (4-17, 0-13 GNAC) at 7 p.m. MSUB defeated CU in Portland, Ore. earlier this season by a final score of 83-70.