(MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – MSUB’s men are in the hunt for a top six spot in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference standings as they look to clinch a playoff position for the first time since 2016-17.
The Yellowjackets (8-6, 3-3 GNAC) are currently in sixth place with two conference road games this week. The action begins Thursday when the ‘Jackets play at Western Washington University (10-7, 4-3 GNAC) at 7 p.m. LT. Then they travel to British Columbia for a matchup with Simon Fraser University (7-8, 1-6 GNAC) Saturday at 7 p.m. LT.
“I think on paper Western Washington will be a fun game because of their tradition and I know our guys are looking forward to going there to play them,” commented assistant coach Bobby Howard. “Simon Fraser has gotten better and better since coach Durham and I have been in the league and that’s going to be a tough one. To come out of the weekend with one or two wins on the road would really set us up for the rest of the year.”
In the season’s first half, the Yellowjackets nearly upset Division I University of Nevada Las Vegas (L, 83-81), won five straight games in November and December, beat Alaska Fairbanks and Alaska Anchorage at home, and failed to win a conference game on the road. Coming in with a completely new coaching staff and nine new players, the road back to the conference tournament is a tall task, but so far the team has defended its’ home court (8-2 home record) and played well enough to warrant slightly raised eyebrows from opponents.
Individuals have shined so far for the Yellowjackets as well. Melvin Newbern Jr. has averaged 8.4 rebounds per game, second highest in the GNAC and Tyler Green leads the conference in 3-pointers made with 50 (3.6 per game). Green is also fifth in scoring with 15.8 points per game through 14 games.
Zack Rollins led the Yellowjackets in scoring a year ago and has moved past Brent Montague for 17th on the MSUB all-time list for career 3-pointers, currently at 121.
MSU Billings is 3-3 in the GNAC with 14 games to play. This is the fourth season of an 11 team conference. Last year, the final squad to make the playoffs was 10-10 (Central Washington). In 2016-17, the Yellowjackets squeaked in at 9-11 as did Western Washington in 2015-16.
MSUB’s women are on the road for a pair of GNAC foes, including their highest-ranked opponent of the year.
The Yellowjackets (7-5, 3-3 GNAC) play at Central Washington University (10-4, 5-2) on Thursday in Ellensburg, Washington. On Saturday, MSUB faces No. 4 Northwest Nazarene University (15-0, 7-0), which is in first place in the conference and is one of just seven teams in the NCAA Division II to boast an undefeated record. Thursday’s game starts at 7 p.m. Pacific/8 p.m. Mountain, while Saturday’s begins at 7 p.m. Both games will feature live video with play-by-play commentary and live statistics, available through MSUB’s Stretch Internet portal online here.
“This is another important road trip for our team,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “It is difficult to play two weeks in-a-row away from home, but I believe it tests our team’s toughness and I am interested to see how we respond. Both of these teams will be tough. CWU and NNU play similar tempos and return most of their key players from winning teams a year ago. We must limit our turnovers and easy baskets by them, and continue to improve on the boards. Defensively, we are improving and getting better on the glass. Offensively, we need more consistency and balance.”
The ‘Jackets will complete a stretch of four straight road games this week, and will be rewarded with a favorable schedule the rest of the regular season. MSUB has eight of its final 12 games at Alterowitz Gym, including four straight from February 7-16. The team enters this week tied for fifth place in the GNAC standings, and is in the thick of the pack fighting for a top-six spot and a berth into the 2019 GNAC Championships.
After their worst loss of the season – 87-42 at No. 14 University of Alaska Anchorage – the ‘Jackets salvaged a split last week with an 80-72 win in Fairbanks at the University of Alaska. Overall the team has won three of its last four games.
“Last week’s trip was difficult, and we got beat badly at Anchorage,” said Woodin. “I was impressed with our team’s character and how they responded to win at Fairbanks. The games this week will provide us with a benchmark for where we are and need to get to. I’m excited to see how we play.”