(MSU Billings release)
BILLINGS – After six non-conference opponents and a pair of exhibition games, the Montana State University Billings men’s basketball will get its’ first chance to beat a team in the Great Northwest Athletic on Tuesday, November 17 at 7 p.m. against University of Alaska Fairbanks at Alterowitz Gymnasium.
Last season, the Nanooks took both games in the series but the Yellowjackets are hoping to reverse their fortunes in 2018-19. If the ‘Jackets succeed in defeating UAF on Tuesday, their not so secret weapon points to MSUB head coach Mick Durham, who will be coaching against his former team for the first time after spending seven seasons behind the bench at UAF.
“It’s tough (playing against your former team),” said Durham. “I know most of those guys and spent seven years there and here we are having to play against them the first game in the conference. It’s the opener so there’s always excitement because of that and I think the matchup against Alaska Fairbanks adds even another element to it.”
Both the Yellowjackets and Nanooks played in the MSUB Thanksgiving Tournament over last weekend but did not face off against one another. Alaska went 2-0 with a 68-64 win over Black Hills State and a 76-75 win against California State Dominguez Hills while MSU Billings defeated Black Hills State 90-70 but fell against Dominguez Hills on a last second shot 75-73.
Tuesday night’s game will renew a decades old rivalry dating back to the first game between the two GNAC schools in 1973. Since then, the Yellowjackets are 41-29 all-time against UAF but the Nanooks have won each of the last three matchups.
“I think it’s going to be real personal for us since coach was there last year,” said MSUB junior Tyler Green. “We saw them play and they look like a very good team. They execute their offense and any of their players are capable of having a really good game at any moment so we’re excited and we’re ready for the game.”
Green has been a major contributor to the early success of the ‘Jackets and was awarded GNAC player of the week Monday after turning in back-to-back 19 point performances at the MSUB Thanksgiving Tournament. On Friday, Green added four assists and four rebounds to his point total and shot 4-for-8 from the three-point line. Saturday, Green returned to score 19 after shooting 50 percent from the field and 55 percent from outside. He added four rebounds and pair of assists against CSUDH in the contest.
Green leads the Yellowjackets in scoring this season with 89 points (14.8 ppg). He is also second on the squad in field goal percentage (.500), second in 3-point percentage (.500), and second in free throw percentage (.889). Green’s 23 assists ranks first on the team and he has eight steals through six games.
Melvin Newbern Jr. has been good on both ends of the floor for the Yellowjackets. The junior forward recorded his second double-double of the season against Black Hills State and had 22 points and 11 rebounds on 8-for-12 shooting. The Minneapolis native has started all six games and is shooting an impressive .633 from the field this season.
LAST TIME OUT: Newbern Jr. was flanked by Green, Zack Rollins, Zharon Richmond, and Sven Jueschede at the start of last game against Black Hills State. MSU Billings trailed by six at halftime but turned in an impressive shooting performance in the second half and went on to win 90-70.
Newbern Jr. led all scorers with 22 points and Green, Rollins, Richmond, and Brendan Howard all made it into double-figure scoring. The ‘Jackets shot 54 percent including 47.8 percent from outside and 73 percent from the free throw line. In a 55 point second half, MSUB was 8-for-13 from three point range. The Yellowjackets scored 26 points off turnovers compared to 10 for Black Hills State.
A LOOK BACK: Montana State Billings finished 13-18 overall in 2017-18 and 5-15 against conference opponents. At 3-3 this season, the jury is still out on what the 2018-19 Yellowjackets can accomplish. Men’s basketball at MSUB last made the post season in 2016-17, when they fell in the first round to No. 3 seed Western Oregon. The last year MSUB won a playoff game was 2011-12, when the ‘Jackets beat Alaska Anchorage to win the GNAC Tournament. Two weeks later in 2012, Alaska Anchorage got revenge when they beat MSUB 80-68 in the first round of the NCAA Division II national tournament.
Scouting University of Alaska Fairbanks
Game Day: Tuesday, November 27 – 7 p.m.
2018-19 Record: 3-4, 0-0 GNAC, 0-0 home, 0-2 away, 3-2 neutral
Head Coach: Greg Sparling (first season)
2017-18 Record: 11-15, 9-11 GNAC, 5-7 home, 4-6 away, 2-2 neutral
Alaska Fairbanks has won three straight games heading into Tuesday night. A goaltending call at the final buzzer against Cal State Dominguez Hills Saturday night went in the Nanooks favor and UAF squeaked past to Toros 76-75. Spencer Sweet had 20 points, four rebounds, and two steals on 8-of-14 shooting and four three pointers. Tymoryae led the team in rebounding with five and added 13 points.
After posting a 9-11 conference record in 2017-18, the Nanooks were projected to finish ninth in the GNAC this season in this year’s preseason coaches poll. UAF returned eight players from last year and four starters including senior guard Alex Baham, senior guard Tre Eisenhut, junior forward Michael Kluting, and senior forward Joe Lendway. Baham was selected preseason all-conference after being one of the top three-point shooters in the GNAC last season. Baham posted double figure point totals in UAF’s first four games but played just ten minutes against Cal State Dominguez Hills with zero points.
The scoring has instead been led by Kluting, who is averaging 14.0 points per game. The Palmer, Alaska native has shot .493 from the floor and has 66 rebounds in seven games for the Nanooks. Junior Alex Martin is second in scoring at 12.3 points per contest and Sweet is right behind at 12.1 ppg.
Alaska Fairbanks’ roster features six seniors, eight juniors, two sophomores, and zero freshmen. Despite the apparent experience, the look of the team remains somewhat unfamiliar with seven off-season transfers joining the team. Greg Sparling was hired as head coach of the Nanooks after the departure of Mick Durham. Sparling served as Central Washington’s head coach since the 1994-95 season before taking the job at UAF.
Alaska Fairbanks last made the GNAC Championships in 2015-16 and beat No. 6 seed Western Washington before falling in the semifinals to No. 1 Western Oregon.
LOOKING AHEAD: After the GNAC opener, MSUB stays home to complete its’ five game homestand. The ‘Jackets will play Alaska Anchorage on December 1, followed by Rocky Mountain College (December 8), and Dickinson State (December 18) before heading on the road again.