(MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – The most productive opening quarter of the 2018-19 season for the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team proved pivotal in a gutsy 75-67 win over Great Northwest Athletic Conference foe Saint Martin’s University Thursday evening at Alterowitz Gym.
Though the Yellowjackets led 26-12 after 10 minutes of play, it was hardly smooth sailing as a relentless Saints team battled back and maintained a stake until the final minute of play. MSUB (5-4, 1-2 GNAC) held tough, fighting off SMU’s hard press over the final three quarters and earning its first conference win of the season.
“It was nice to get off to a great start tonight,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “We have been struggling with the first quarter recently and I thought it set the tone for our team today. Our defense was excellent, especially early, and that led to some transition baskets for us.”
Hannah Collins led all players with 20 points, while Taylor Cunningham added 16 in her first game back on the court after recovering from a month-long injury. Senior Vanessa Stavish contributed a dozen points and five rebounds, and freshman Taryn Shelley notched her second double-double of the year with 11 points and a game-high 11 boards.
“It was great to get Taylor and Hannah back on the floor,” Woodin said. “Taylor is so versatile, and I am proud of her for coming back so strong, and so quick. That is extremely hard to do. We got great balance tonight offensively, and shot the ball better which really helps. Multiple people connected from the 3-point line, and we shared the ball very well. Twenty-one assists is an impressive number to post.”
The Saints dropped to 4-9 on the year and are now 1-3 in league play. Makenna Schultz led her team with 17 points thanks to 4-for-9 shooting from 3-point range. Reigning GNAC Freshman of the Year Saniah Simpson-Patu added 14 and Claire Dingus had 12. “Schultz and Simpson are hard to guard, but I thought our players made them work hard for their points,” Woodin said.
The ‘Jackets set the tone from the opening possession, as Jeanann Lemelin grabbed a rebound and Collins drained her first three of the night from the wing. It was the first of five treys that the ‘Jackets nailed in the first quarter, which was their second-highest scoring period overall on the season.
The Saints adjusted to MSUB’s hot start, shifting into a press and limiting MSUB to just 10 points in the second. Schultz rattled home a long trey with just under two minutes until halftime, getting the Saints’ deficit down to a dozen at 33-21. Collins countered with her second three of the game however, and the ‘Jackets held onto a 36-22 advantage by halftime.
Schultz cleanly drained back-to-back threes from long distance, cutting it to a 47-36 ballgame midway through the third quarter. Cunningham came to life with back-to-back treys of her own late in the third, helping put a stop to SMU’s run and reestablish a 55-42 lead for the ‘Jackets.
A Schultz three in the early part of the fourth quarter got the Saints as close as they had been since the beginning, as she cut it to a 56-49 game. The Saints chipped away and got it to a two-possession game down 70-65 after a Schultz layup inside of one minute to play. Despite making just 2 of 8 free throws to that point in the game, MSUB made six of its final seven to seal the victory.
Taylor Edwards was a key contributor early on, turning in a career-best four assists while committing no turnovers. The Yellowjackets had eight different players record an assist on the evening, finishing with 21 total against just 13 turnovers. Lemelin finished with seven points, four rebounds, and three assists, while playing 31 minutes. Shelley shook off a cloud of four shadows hanging over her head, and proved to be a key rebounding presence late in the game. “Taryn was effective tonight,” Woodin said on the reigning GNAC Player of the Week. “It hurt us a little when she was in foul trouble, but she continues to improve and is impacting the game at both ends. Our bench contributed a lot tonight. Emily St. John was effective with penetration in the lane and hit a three, and Janessa Williams sparked us as she always plays so hard.”
MSUB shot 47.5 percent overall (28-for-59), including 40.7 percent from 3-point range (11-for-27), but made just 8 of 15 free throws (53.3 percent). The Saints meanwhile shot 42.6 percent from the field (23-for-54), and suffered from a 5-for-17 night from the arc (29.4 percent).
MSUB won despite being out-rebounded 39-31, as 17 SMU turnovers overtook only eight assists by the visiting team.
THE BUZZ: Cunningham was selected as the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…it was her first game since December 1 against Western Washington…Collins had her second-career 20-point game…Edwards’ previous career high in assists was three, which she had achieved on three different occasions…MSUB’s only more productive quarter than Thursday night’s first was a 31-point showing in the fourth quarter of an 88-69 loss at South Dakota Mines on November 17…MSUB is now 28-11 all-time against Saint Martin’s and holds a 16-2 record at Alterowitz Gym.
NEXT UP: Conference play continues on Saturday, as the ‘Jackets host Seattle Pacific University. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m., and live video with play-by-play commentary and live statistics will be available online through the MSUB Stretch Internet portal here.