(NSUB Athletics release)
PHOENIX – After challenging for the lead in the opening half, the Montana State University Billings men’s basketball team was ultimately unable to keep pace with Division I counterpart Grand Canyon University, falling 97-60 in exhibition action Tuesday night in front of a frenzied crowd at GCU Arena.
The Yellowjackets were down by just nine points at halftime after rallying back from a 27-10 deficit but costly turnovers and a much improved second half field goal percentage by GCU ultimately doomed MSUB’s chances of completing an upset. Alessandro Lever and Michael Finke were the most effective on offense for GCU and each had 16 points to lead all players.
Zack Rollins played well in the first half for MSUB and Brendan Howard found his way to the rim in the second half and each finished with a team leading 12 points apiece in the loss.
Turnovers were costly throughout the game for the Yellowjackets and the Lopes soundly beat MSUB in the category 19-to-8. GCU also had 11 steals compared to two for MSUB and outshot the ‘Jackets 59 percent to 41 percent. The Lopes had runs of 15-0 and 19-0, helping to push their point total to nearly triple-digits.
FIRST HALF BREAKDOWN: Both teams struggled to make baskets in the opening five minutes of the first half. MSU Billings began 3-of-8 from the field while GCU shot 3-of-9 and missed each of its’ first six 3-point attempts. After the first media timeout, the Lopes began establishing shot consistency which culminated in their first 15-point run to go ahead 27-12.
The Yellowjackets briskly countered and cut the deficit to 10 after finding their range from beyond the arc. Hafeez Abdul and Sven Jeuschede both made 3-pointers over the stretch. MSU Billings trailed just 41-32 at halftime and despite an obvious size disadvantage, were out rebounding the Lopes 20-to-11.
Montana State Billings also posted 20 points in the paint compared to eight for Grand Canyon University and went 5-for-12 from 3-point range opposite the Lopes, who went 4-for-14. Grand Canyon led 9-6 in turnovers in the first half.
SECOND HALF BREAKDOWN: The Lopes came out with energy in the second half and went on an immediate 8-2 run to push the lead back to 16 points. Driving to the rim became less effective for the MSU Billings’ forwards as Grand Canyon University congealed defensively. GCU then stretched out the lead by making 3-point baskets on three consecutive possessions. The Lopes also made steals and caused additional turnovers which resulted in an inability for MSUB to score over a six-minute span.
MSUB freshman Brendan Howard impressed late in the game as he showed off his ability to drive to the rim and fight for space between defenders. Howard finished with 12 points including eight in the second half along with four rebounds and one steal.
BY THE NUMBERS: The Yellowjackets went 5-for-21 from the arc, shooting 23.8 percent. Grand Canyon connected on 37.5 percent of three point attempts and went 9-for-24.
Trey Dreschell was effective off the bench for Grand Canyon University. Dreschell had five points and was the Lopes were plus-32 in the 21 minutes Dreschell was on the floor, mostly in the second half. Damari Milstead recorded three steals and 10 points for GCU and shot 5-of-8 from the field.
Zack Rollins had 30 minutes of playing time for the Yellowjackets. Jeuschede was close behind with 28, and Beijan Newbern played 27.
NEXT UP: Montana State Billings (0-0, 0-0 GNAC) travels to play University of Nevada Las Vegas (0-0, 0-0 CONF) Friday November 2 at 7 p.m. UNLV will be the second NCAA Division I exhibition opponent this season. The regular season begins November 9 in non-conference competition against Point Loma Nazarene University. The Yellowjackets home opener is November 14 against University of Mary at 7 p.m.
THE BUZZ: Howard was named St. Vincent Healthcare player of the game for MSUB. Howard posted 12 points on 10-of-15 field goals. He also had four rebounds and one block…The Yellowjackets moved to 3-9 all-time against Grand Canyon. MSUB has never beaten the Lopes in Phoenix in seven attempts.