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MSU Billings women fall in conference opener to Simon Fraser

Posted at 11:17 PM, Nov 29, 2018

(Editor’s Note: MSUB Athletics Press Release)

BURNABY, B.C. – Senior Sophie Swant scored a career-high 26 points on Thursday night at the West Gym, lifting host Simon Fraser University to an 81-74 Great Northwest Athletic Conference women’s basketball victory over Montana State University Billings.

Swant’s blistering start to the game – going 8-for-8 from the field – was emblematic of the Clan’s evening overall, as they used a 29-point opening quarter to forge a lead they never relinquished in the wire-to-wire win. SFU improved to 5-2 with the victory, and moved to an even 1-1 in league play.

Though the Yellowjackets cut into the deficit and got as close as 77-74 with just 40 seconds left, they never managed to tie the score as the early hole proved to be too deep to climb out of. MSUB dropped to 3-2 on the season and fell to 0-1 in the GNAC with the loss. “Our start was not very good tonight, and they jumped on us early,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “I felt we battled back well in the second quarter to stay within striking distance. In the second half we had many opportunities, but we struggled to hit open shots down the stretch.”

Swant’s performance overshadowed a career-high 21 points by MSUB senior Vanessa Stavish, who led her team by shooting 8-for-16 from the field including 4 of 7 from 3-point range. Junior Taylor Cunningham also had a career high with 20 points on 8 of 14 shooting, and sophomore point guard Hannah Collins made all seven of her free throws while finishing with 15 points. “I like that Taylor is being more assertive on offense for us, and Vanessa hit some big shots tonight for us,” Woodin said. “Defensively we need to do better as a team, and offensively we need to shoot the ball a little better.”

After two foul shots by Cunningham kept the ‘Jackets alive, SFU’s Ozi Nwabuko converted a clutch layup on the other end with just 12.6 seconds on the clock as she made it a 79-74 game. “We wanted to get a stop in the last few seconds and try to advance the ball with a timeout, but they did a good job and scored,” Woodin commented on the game-clinching shot by Nwabuko. “We need to regroup and get ready for Western Washington. We have great potential, but must be more consistent.”

Nwabuko finished with 11 points and a team-high 11 rebounds to complete the double-double. Jessica Jones (13 points) and Tayler Drynan (12) were also in double figures for the Clan.

Jones had five early points in the game, and she and Swant hit back-to-back threes to give SFU a 15-8 edge midway through the first. Sophie’s sister Georgia Swant drained a three after an offensive board by Nwabuko, as the Clan upped their advantage into double figures at 22-11 late in the opening quarter. SFU made 12 of 16 shots in the first 10 minutes, paced by Swant who was a perfect 6-for-6 for 13 points.

The Clan led 29-16 after the first quarter, but the ‘Jackets responded with a 5-2 run to open the second and cut into the deficit. Two more free throws by Collins cut the spread to seven points, as the ‘Jackets kept themselves in the game down 35-28 with 3:30 left before halftime. Stavish followed with her first two treys of the game, cutting it to a single possession at 37-34. Overall MSUB out-scored SFU 23-16 in the period, and the ‘Jackets trailed just 45-39 at the break.

Taryn Shelley came up big off the bench in the third, grabbing a rebound and then hitting a trail three to make it a 57-54 ballgame. Shelley finished the evening with nine points, four rebounds, two blocks, an assist, and a steal in 14 efficient minutes off the bench. After an even 19-19 third quarter the Clan led 64-58, but the ‘Jackets couldn’t find a way to get over the hump over the final 10 minutes.

Drynan opened the fourth quarter with a three, as SFU upped its advantage to 67-58. The Clan seemingly had an answer every time the ‘Jackets hit a shot, and MSUB missed three solid looks from beyond the arc in the span of two minutes that helped SFU keep its distance late in the fourth.

Overall on the night MSUB shot 44.8 percent from the field (26-for-58), while making 7 of 20 threes (35.0 percent) and 15 of 17 free throws (88.2 percent). The Clan shot just 36.9 percent (17-for-46) over the final three quarters, but their mark of 75.0 percent over the first 10 minutes was enough to hold up for the win. SFU made 9 of 20 threes (45.0 percent) and 14 of 16 free throws (87.5 percent).

Swant’s 26 points tied for the eighth-highest single-game mark by a GNAC player this season, and were the most by a Clan player as she passed Jones’ total of 23 on Nov. 9 against UC San Diego.

THE BUZZ: Stavish was named the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…MSUB is now 9-11 overall against SFU and is 2-7 in games played in Burnaby…the 29 points allowed by MSUB in the opening quarter were the most given up in any quarter so far this season…Collins’ previous career high was six free throws, achieved on March 2, 2018 against Northwest Nazarene…Cunningham previously reached her high of 15 points on two different occasions, most recently on Nov. 23…Stavish’s previous career high was 18 points, which she achieved as a freshman on Nov. 15, 2014 against Western State…Janessa Williams had a career-high four rebounds in the game.

NEXT UP: MSUB continues conference play on Saturday, with a matchup at Western Washington University. Tipoff against the Vikings is set for 7 p.m. Pacific/8 p.m. Mountain, with live video and live statistics available online through MSUB’s Stretch Internet portal here.