BILLINGS – There was a time when the Montana State University Billings men’s basketball team was one of the most exciting teams in the nation.
With coach Craig Carse’s bombs-away style, the Yellowjackets routinely scored more than 100 points in games, utilizing the 3-point line as much or more than any team in the country. In Carse’s first season 20 years ago, the Yellowjackets put up 792 3-point attempts in 28 games, averaging out to more than 28 3-point attempts each time out.
Carse, now at Division III Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, still employs the same frenetic style, but nothing has matched that 11-year stretch in Billings that started with the 1995-96 season.
“In our first 11 years (at MSUB), we only lost 10 games at home,” said Carse, who still calls Billings home, commuting back and forth to Texas. “We were the No. 1-winning team in the nation at all levels of basketball. We were 142-10. Duke and Kansas were right behind us. … I think we gave some good entertainment for those first 11 years.”
MTN was unable to independently confirm the Jackets’ home record during those 11 years, but MSUB did go 205-97 overall (94-58 in conference) in that span. The Jackets had an impressive home-court advantage, and plenty of excitement surrounded the program.
It started with that 1995-96 team, which won the Pacific West conference championship and advanced to the NCAA (Division II) tournament. The Jackets defeated Oregon State at Corvallis, Ore., during the regular season.
“I think Coach Carse was really trying to get us to believe that we had the ability to do certain things,” said Brent Montague, who averaged 19.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game as a senior that season. “When we beat Oregon State, that gave us the confidence. I think that game really propelled us from there. That was a lot of fun. If a 16-hour bus ride from Corvallis to Billings can be fun, there’s no question that bus ride home was a lot of fun.”
The Jackets won eight of their next nine games after the Oregon State win, surpassing 100 points six of those games, including a 141-point outburst against Alaska Anchorage, which is the second-highest scoring game in program history.
Reece Gliko, one of the best scoring guards ever to play high school basketball in Montana while he was at Belt and Highwood, averaged 23 points per game during Carse’s first season, making 96 of 241 3-point attempts that season.
Montague was second on the team in scoring and four other players averaged double figures.
“We could just flat-out shoot the ball, I’m talking as a team,” Montague recalled. “We had a very, very good point guard in Jamie Stevens. He knew how to run a team and knew who to get the ball to.”
Stevens averaged 10 points and 7.5 assists per game. He’s now the MSUB coach, having just wrapped up his fifth season. Like Carse, Stevens found lightning in a bottle in his first year, guiding the Jackets to a Great Northwest Conference championship and berth at the national tournament.
Montague has been the athletics corporate salesperson and director of athletic development at MSUB for nine years now.
Mark Hamilton, a sophomore guard who averaged 10.1 points per game during the 1995-96 season, is back at home in Columbus, and Eddie Cochran, a junior forward who averaged 13 points, is still in Billings. Matt Preusser, a junior guard who averaged 10.5 points, moved to Texas, and Gliko is in Colorado.
“Life keeps going on, and priorities change,” Montague said. “There’s no doubt that all of us are still very good friends. There’s definitely a reason why we had success on the basketball court, and I think a lot of it had to with that friendship we had built throughout the year.”
“Any of the successes I’ve had at any of the stops I’ve been at – and I’ve been very fortunate for 40 years – they’re really because of the people you’re around, particularly the players,” Carse said. “In Billings, we had first-class people and players.”