(MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – Hoping to extend a five game win streak, the Montana State University Billings men’s basketball team will come off the holiday break with a pair of road contests against Great Northwest Athletic opponents this week. The team is scheduled to first face Northwest Nazarene University on Thursday, January 3 at 7 p.m. LT followed by a matchup with Central Washington University on January 5 at 7 p.m. LT.
The Yellowjackets (7-3, 2-0 GNAC) went 3-0 in December but have not played since December 18, when they defeated Dickinson State University at home 78-61. They will enter the bulk of the conference schedule on Thursday with the first of 19 games in a row against GNAC foes.
“Heading back into GNAC play against a couple teams that can really score the ball is going to be a challenge,” commented MSUB head coach Mick Durham. “I felt the break for our team came at a good time after our long homestand. I believe our guys are ready to get back on the road to compete in what is a very balanced conference. We have a long ways to go but we need games again to continue to grow together.”
The Yellowjackets have conference wins over University of Alaska 79-76 and University of Alaska Anchorage 89-74 but face their first significant road test Thursday night against the Nighthawks. Northwest Nazarene is 3-0 at home this season and recently defeated Central Washington 90-87 on New Year’s Day in their first game since the break. After NNU, Central Washington will be hungry for its first conference win on Saturday and the Wildcats are a perfect 4-0 in Ellensburg this season.
LAST TIME OUT: MSU Billings earned a 78-61 win over Dickinson State University on December 18 and never trailed in the game. Zack Rollins led the scoring with 19 points on 7-for-12 shooting. Zharon Richmond added 14 points (7-for-12) and had eight rebounds in what was perhaps his best performance this season. Two time GNAC player of the week Tyler Green posted 12 points and led the team with six assists in the winning effort.
ROLLINS FINDS THE RIM: Rollins led the Yellowjackets in scoring a season ago so expectations were high coming into his senior season. After a slow start, Rollins proved he still has what it takes to score the basketball as his offensive production picked up considerably. In the last four games, Rollins has averaged 20.0 points including a career high 30 points against Alaska Anchorage on December 1. For his efforts, Rollins was named GNAC player of the week for November 26 – December 2. Rollins is eighth in the GNAC with 14.9 points per game and is sixth with a .862 free throw percentage (25-29).
REST OF THE HIVE: Richmond, a sophomore forward had 14 points and eight rebounds in the win over Dickinson State. Richmond is averaging 10.4 ppg. for MSUB. Junior forward Melvin Newbern Jr. is third in the GNAC with 8.2 rebounds per game and Green (junior guard) is sixth with 15.7 points per game.
BIG MAN OFF THE BENCH: Junior center Seth Christiaens has seen just 7.1 minutes of playing time per game, but the 6-foot-11 junior has made the most of his time on court. Christiaens shoots a high percentage, due to his ability to dunk the ball over just about anyone from his position in the paint. He also brings a defensive presence, with five steals, 19 rebounds, and four blocks. The Broadview, Montana native had a memorable moment on November 19, when he swatted a pair of Rocky Mountain College shot attempts on back-to-back possessions to ensure the ‘Jackets went in to halftime with the lead. MSUB won the exhibition 77-73 and Christiaens had four blocks and four points in the effort.
AGAINST THE REST: The Yellowjackets average 78.0 points per game (eighth best in the conference) and allow 73.2 points to opponents (fifth). MSUB is sixth in free throw percentage (.719), fourth in field goal percentage (.487), and fifth in three point percentage (.381).
Defensively, the ‘Jackets are third in blocked shots (3.4 bpg), seventh in steals (7.1 spg), and fifth in defensive rebounding (25.9). A balanced attack has prevailed this season and MSU Billings has five players averaging more than 10.0 points per game, including Brendan Howard off the bench. One area they will need to improve is turnover margin, The Yellowjackets are 10th in the GNAC with an equal number of turnovers created as well as given up (143-143).
Scouting Northwest Nazarene University
Game Day: Thursday, January 3 – 7 p.m. LT
2018-19 Record: 7-2 (2-1 GNAC), 3-0 home, 1-2 away, 3-0 neutral
Head Coach: Paul Rush (2nd season)
2017-18 Record: 13-13 (9-11 GNAC), 9-5 home, 3-7 away, 1-1 neutral
The Nighthawks have GNAC wins over Seattle Pacific and Central Washington and are off to an impressive non-conference start. NNU was picked to repeat last year’s seventh place finish in the conference, where they landed just outside of making a trip to the conference tournament.
Senior guard Obi Megwa and junior guard Jayden Bezzant were selected preseason all-GNAC. Megwa was the team’s top scorer a year ago and has averaged 17.7 points per game this season. Bezzant is up to 11.7 points per game and holds a .532 shooting percentage from the floor.
Junior guard Adonis Arms made a big jump in production and leads the Nighthawks in scoring with 21.7 points per game. Arms also leads the team in rebounds (5.2 rpg) and has 24 total assists.
The Nighthawks are 7-2, despite allowing 80.3 points per game to opponents. They rank fourth in the GNAC in scoring at 85.4 points per game. Northwest Nazarene leads the GNAC in field goal percentage, shooting .520 through nine games.
The Series: MSU Billings holds a 19-18 series lead over the Nighthawks dating back to 1959. The ‘Jackets are 3-7 over the last 10 outings against NNU and both teams took care of business at home in last year’s matchups. Most recently, the Nighthawks bested the Yellowjackets 86-76 on January 25, 2018 in Nampa, Idaho. Rollins made seven 3-pointers and finished with 27 points for MSUB.
Scouting Central Washington University
Game Day: Saturday, January 5 – 7 p.m. LT
2018-19 Record: 6-5 (0-3 GNAC), 4-0 home, 2-4 away, 0-1 neutral
Head Coach: Brandon Rinta (1st season)
2017-18 Record: 15-13 (10-10 GNAC), 8-4 home, 4-6 away, 3-3 neutral
The Wildcats squeaked into the GNAC Championships a year ago with a 10-10 conference mark and return just one starter in 2018-19. After early conference losses to Seattle Pacific, Saint Martin’s, and Northwest Nazarene, CWU is still looking for their first GNAC win. Despite the 0-3 start, the Wildcats are dangerous at home and will be looking to stay undefeated in Ellensburg when they take on MSUB.
Similar to the Yellowjackets, Central Washington has balanced scoring with six players averaging over 10 points per game but no one over 15. Junior guard Gamaun Boykin has been a notable two way player with 13.0 points per game, 5.6 rebounds per game, and one double-double against California State Monterey Bay.
First year head coach Brandon Rinta has replaced three starters lost to graduation as well as former GNAC freshman of the year Khalil Shabazz, who departed to play for Division I San Francisco.
Central Washington leads the GNAC in scoring offense with 90.5 points per game but has struggled defensively. They allow a conference bottom 81.3 points per game to opponents. The possibility for a high scoring game is at an almost inevitable level.
The Series: Montana State Billings is 6-19 all-time against Central Washington. The Wildcats got past MSUB twice last season and by exactly five points in each game. On January 27, 2018, CWU posted 46 points in the second half to win 77-73. Despite the loss, MSUB guard Kobe Terashima had a career high 24 points and shot 10-for-14.
AROUND THE GNAC: Saint Martin’s (2-0), Western Oregon (2-0), and MSU Billings (2-0) continue to stay undefeated in conference games this season. The Saints were selected preseason favorites to win the GNAC and have the best overall record so far at 9-1. SMU ranks No. 21 in the latest NCAA Division II NABC National coaches’ poll. Eight of 12 teams won their last game heading into the holiday break and only Alaska Fairbanks has more losses than wins overall at 4-5.
HOW TO WATCH: This week’s games can be found on the stretch internet portal for Northwest Nazarene and Central Washington respectively with links for live video and stats on the MSUB Men’s Basketball Schedule page. The Yellowjackets return home to play Western Oregon on January 10.