(MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – After a long road trip and an entire off-season of building anticipation, the Montana State University Billings men’s basketball team is finally returns to Alterowitz Gymnasium for a non-conference regular season game against the University of Mary Wednesday at 7 p.m.
The Yellowjackets arrive with three returning starters in 2018, including top scorer Zack Rollins (15.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg). MSUB also welcomes four transfer student-athletes, highlighted by center Seth Christiaens and forward Melvin Newbern Jr. as the team sought to add both size and depth this off-season. Wednesday will also be the home coaching debut of head coach Mick Durham. Durham returned to his home state after six seasons as head coach at Alaska Fairbanks and is looking to take the team to new heights in 2018-19.
“I think the four games on the road were great experience for us but it’s never easy to start with four in a row on the road with a new team,” commented Durham. “Hopefully we’ll be rejuvenated and excited and ready to play at a high energy level and I’m looking to see what we can develop here on our home court.”
Fans planning to attend the game are encouraged to wear gold for the home opener but those who cannot make it can watch online. All home games and select road contests throughout the 2018-19 season will feature live video with play-by-play commentary and live statistics, available through MSUB’s Stretch Internet portal. Ticket information for all home games, as well as season ticket information, can be found online or by calling 406-657-2369.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: The Yellowjackets began with a pair of road exhibitions against Division I opponents and had moderate success in preparation for the regular season. After suffering a 97-60 loss to Grand Canyon University, the ‘Jackets nearly upset the University of Nevada Las Vegas but fell on a last second layup 83-81.
The regular season opened last Thursday in the West Region Crossover Tournament against west region Division II power Point Loma Nazarene. After keeping up with the Sea Lions in the first half, Point Loma took command in the second half to win 100-75. The Sea Lions shot an out of this world 55.6 percent from 3-point range and 58.3 percent overall. The Yellowjackets also had a strong shooting night and went 50.9 percent from the floor, including 45.0 percent from beyond the arc.
In the second game of the tournament, MSU Billings was defeated by Fresno Pacific 73-65 after allowing the Sunbirds to score 46 points in the second half. Coach Durham called his team’s performance “disappointing” and lamented the opportunity to bounce-back at home against University of Mary.
FEELING GREEN: Junior guard Tyler Green led the Yellowjackets with 19 points against Point Loma Nazarene on 7-for-8 shooting and five 3-pointers. He followed with a dozen points against Fresno Pacific and went 5-for-13 from the field. Green has also shown the ability to distribute the basketball with six assists combined. Last season, Green started 11 games and averaged 12.5 points per game and 22.1 minutes. A good start to his junior season has opened the door to more playing time already in the early portions of 2018-19.
ROLLIN’ ON A ROLLINS: Zack Rollins played a combination of forward and guard for the Yellowjackets last season and proved his ability to score from anywhere on the floor. A brilliant fade away 3-pointer in the opening seconds against Point Loma Nazarene suggested he hasn’t lost his scoring touch. Last season, Rollins was the Yellowjackets’ top scorer and he averaged 15.4 points per game along with 16 blocks, 36 steals, and 163 total rebounds. Rollins made 91 buckets from beyond the arc for a .382 percentage. In his first two games of 2018, Rollins is 6-for-12 from 3-point range and has 24 total points.
STARTING FIVE: The Yellowjacket starting lineup has fluctuated based on the size and structure of their opponent. Last time out, Durham began the game with Green, Rollins, Brendan Howard, Melvin Newbern, and Sven Jeuschede. Howard is averaging 11.0 points per game and is second on the team in total rebounds. Jeuschede is up to four steals on the season and Newbern is second to Green in points per game with 14.0.
Scouting University of Mary
Game Day: Wednesday, November 13 – 7 p.m.
2018 Record: 0-2, 0-0 NSIC
Head Coach: Joe Kittell (3rd season)
2017 Record: 6-21, 4-18 NSIC
University of Mary competes in NCAA Division II and is a member of the Northern Sun Conference. Located in Bismarck, North Dakota, The Marauders have had three straight losing seasons and have early losses to Henderson State (66-63) and Southern Arkansas University (64-59). Last season, the Yellowjackets narrowly defeated the Marauders at home 75-73 on November 16, 2017. MSU Billings is 7-3 all-time versus University of Mary in games dating back to 1979.
The Marauders have eight players with Division II collegiate experience in 2018-19 and among them, Jaylan White is the most seasoned. White was one of the nation’s leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio as a freshman and averaged 9.3 points per game, 4.1 assists per game and 2.4 rebounds while shooting 44 percent from the field.
Forwards Tom Kubank and Matthew Kreklow are the University of Mary’s two other returning starters. Kubank averaged 7.2 ppg and started 21 games in his first season with UMary.
The Marauders brought in Dennis Austin III, a graduate transfer who was a starting guard at Upper Iowa University for three seasons. Austin averaged 12.5 ppg and 4.3 rpg as a junior for the Peacocks.
In a 16-team conference, University of Mary finished 2017-18 ranked 14 in scoring offense (72.9 avg/gm), 13th in scoring defense (77.0 avg/gm), and 14th in field goal percentage (.449). The Marauders shot .357 from 3-point range and were the bottom ranked team in rebounding margin (-4.6) in the Northern Sun. Staying true to their mascot, the Marauders’ biggest success came in the steals category. UMary ranked 5th in the conference in steals with 5.7 avg/game.
Joe Kittle is in his third season as head coach of the Marauders. UMary finished eighth in the Northern Sun Conference in 2017-18.
Scouting Minot State
Game Day: Saturday, November 17 – 7 p.m.
2018 Record: 1-1, 0-0 NSIC
Head Coach: Matt Murkin (7th season)
2017 Record: 20-10, 13-9 NSIC
Minot State began the season with an 80-71 loss to Southwest Baptist University followed by a win against Lincoln University of Missouri 78-69. This year the Beaver roster is composed of four seniors, three juniors, four sophomores, and five freshman. Last season the Beavers finished with the seventh best record in the Northern Sun Conference. In the conference tournament, Minot State defeated Upper Iowa before falling to Minnesota State University Mankato 87-79 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
This season, the Beavers are projected to finish sixth in the NSIC after suffering heavy graduation losses, including 2017-18 player of the year Tyler Rudolph. Minot State returns one starter in senior David Akibo. Akibo was second on the team in both scoring and rebounding as he averaged 12.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per contest. Akibo led the Beavers with 26 blocked shots and shot 47.5 percent from the floor.
The Beavers put together their best season in the Division II era in 2017-18, finishing 20-10 overall and 13-9 in the NSIC. Minot State hosted and won its’ first playoff game topping Upper Iowa 91-71 before falling to Minnesota State University Mankato 91-71.
MSU Billings is a perfect 8-0 all-time against the Beavers. The last matchup between the two teams was November 20, 2010. The Yellowjackets won 83-63 in Billings.
LOOKING AHEAD: Starting this week, the Yellowjackets play 10 of their next 11 games at home, with a cross-town rivalry game mixed in against Rocky Mountain College on December 8. MSU Billings hosts the MSUB Thanksgiving Tournament November 23-24. Then the Great Northwest Athletic Conference schedule begins on November 27, when the team invites Alaska Fairbanks to town for a 7 p.m. start.