(MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – Though they maintained a lead most of the night, the Montana State University Billings men’s basketball team missed out on an upset bid as they fell 76-74 to No. 23 Saint Martin’s University Thursday night at Alterowitz Gymnasium in a Great Northwest Athletic Conference game. Tyler Green and Brendan Howard each had 17 points and the Yellowjackets led by as many as 18 points in the first half, but stingy defense by the Saints down the stretch were just enough to hold off MSUB.
Luke Chavez scored 25 points on 8 of 15 shooting to lead the Saints and EJ Boyce also chipped in 17 points and five rebounds. The Saints outrebounded the ‘Jackets 40-34 and made 13 three pointers on 40 tries.
“It was a great effort by our guys tonight,” commented head coach Mick Durham. “We just have to continue to clean up a few things that continue to hurt us. We played very well defensively but just didn’t finish possessions. SMU’s second chance opportunities hurt us but we played hard to the end and had the basketball to win it.”
The Yellowjackets (9-8, 4-5 GNAC) fell to seventh place in the conference standings and have lost two in a row. Saint Martin’s (16-2, 9-1 GNAC) won their sixth straight game and have a 1.5 game advantage on second place Northwest Nazarene in the GNAC.
MSU Billings played solid defense in the opening minutes and temporarily silenced the Saints shooters. After the Yellowjackets built their lead up to 36-26, SMU put together a 15-0 run heading into the final minute of the first half to tie the game 36-36. Free throws by Howard stopped the run and enabled MSUB to lead at the half 40-36. The ‘Jackets shot 51-percent in the first half compared to 41-percent for Saint Martin’s.
MSUB kept offensive pressure on the Saints in the first five minutes of the second half and another Green three pointer kept the ‘Jackets ahead 56-43. SMU went on their second big run of the game and outscored MSUB 15-2 to achieve a tie and eventually the lead 61-60. Saint Martin’s, the GNAC’s leading three point shooting team by volume began finding the twine from long range and extended its’ advantage to 69-62.
Kobe Terashima got the ‘Jackets back to a one possession contest with 1 minute, 25 seconds to play. SMU made shots to push the lead to 74-69 which forced MSUB to foul. Luke Chavez missed three of four free throws, enabling Zack Rollins to drive up the floor for a quick hitting three to get the ‘Jackets to within a pair. With 5.2 seconds remaining, Zharon Richmond forced a long shot through traffic but missed at the buzzer for MSUB, leaving SMU in front by two.
Both teams scored 13 second chance points but SMU had a slight edge in points off turnovers 18-15. The Yellowjackets struggled from the free throw line and made 13 of 20 (65-percent) while the Saints connected on 15 of 21 (71-percent).
Tavian Henderson (SMU) led all players with 10 rebounds. Zack Rollins had seven rebounds and 10 points as he narrowly missed earning a double-double. MSUB was more effective close to the rim and outscored SMU 32-14 in the points in the paint category.
MSU Billings ended 26-for-58 on field goals (44-percent) while the Saints posted 24-for-60 shooting (40-percent). The Saint’s largest lead was accomplished with 3 minutes and 37 seconds left in the second half. The ‘Jackets led by 18 with 6:40 to go in the first half. Green and Melvin Newbern Jr. committed four personal fouls apiece, but no player for either team fouled out of the game.
NEXT UP: The Yellowjackets play at home again Saturday against Seattle Pacific University (9-5, 6-3 GNAC) at 5:15 p.m. in the first game of a men’s and women’s basketball doubleheader.
THE BUZZ: Brendan Howard was named St. Vincent Healthcare player of the game for the Yellowjackets. Howard had 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting and 3 of 6 free throws. Howard also collected four rebounds…MSU Billings is now 14-18 all-time against the Saints and 8-8 at home. The ‘Jackets are 3-7 in their last ten matchups with SMU.
Meantime in the opening game, Olivia Vezaldenos strengthened her case as the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Newcomer of the Year, as she poured in 27 points to lead visiting Concordia University to a 65-59 win over Montana State University Billings in women’s basketball action Thursday evening at Alterowitz Gym.
The sophomore transfer from Chabot College, who entered the day No. 8 in the GNAC with 14.2 points per game, connected on 5 of 11 threes and went 10-for-10 from the foul line to finish one off her season-high of 28 points. Keesha Sarman added her GNAC-leading seventh double-double of the year with 17 points and 12 rebounds, and Erin Higbie chipped in 10 points.
“Concordia played very well tonight, and especially in the second half,” commented MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “I give them all the credit. They executed better than us and definitely deserved to win tonight.”
The Yellowjackets (7-8, 3-6 GNAC) made just 5 of 32 threes (15.6 percent), and shot 23-for-64 overall on the night (35.9 percent). Hannah Collins led her team with 21 points, while adding four rebounds, two assists, and two steals in 34 minutes. Taryn Shelley just missed her fifth double-double of the year, as she scored 16 points, grabbed nine rebounds, and had a season-high five blocked shots.
The Cavaliers (9-9, 4-6) had a tough time stopping Shelley early on, as she hit back-to-back buckets to cap a 9-2 run that gave MSUB a 17-12 lead after 10 minutes of play. MSUB maintained the momentum, and held the lead for the entirety of the second quarter with a 28-24 edge at halftime.
“We were fortunate to be up at halftime, and our defense helped us a lot in the first half,” Woodin said. “Offensively Taylor Cunningham was able to get the ball inside to Taryn effectively. We were up four points at halftime but we should have been up much more as a 1-for-17 performance from the 3-point line hurt us.”
Vezaldenos signaled that things were about to change as she nailed a three in the first possession of the second half. From there, the ‘Cavs slowly wrestled the lead away and after eight straight points by the sophomore over the course of 3:30 of game play it was 40-39.
A deep trey by Vezaldenos from the left wing made it a 50-44 game early in the fourth, and prompted Woodin to call a timeout. It was CU’s largest lead of the game to that point, and was a deficit that MSUB ultimately never came back from.
Collins drained a key three coming out of a timeout, cutting the spread to four points with 5:30 to go. Stavish followed with a trey and a three-point play to make it 57-55, and the ‘Jackets had several opportunities to tie or take the lead. But MSUB went 0-for-4 with two turnovers over the next four minutes, a crucial dry spell that helped the Cavaliers seal the win.
Shelley’s five blocks matched the most by a player in the GNAC this season. It was also her ninth multi-block game this season, which is the second-most in the conference.
Taylor Cunningham had a career-high seven assists in the game, while Stavish finished with a dozen points on 5-for-10 shooting. The Yellowjackets were out-rebounded 39-34 in the game, and only attempted 10 free throws on the night compared with 27 for CU. “We must shoot the ball better from the perimeter to be effective in this league,” Woodin commented. “I believe that is one of the strengths of our team, however we have been very inconsistent in this area. We need to play with a great sense of urgency and need to be more determined on the court.”
The Cavaliers finished the night shooting 18-for-50 (36.0 percent), 6-for-15 from 3-point range (40.0 percent), and 23-for-27 from the foul line (85.2 percent).
Vezaldenos’ previous high in free throws was an 8-for-11 performance on January 10 against Western Washington, when she scored her season high of 28 points. Thursday marked her sixth 20-point game of the year. It was the fifth time this year a GNAC player has reached double figures from the foul line.
THE BUZZ: Shelley was selected as the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…MSUB is now 6-2 all-time against CU and is 4-1 in home games…Cunningham topped her previous mark of six assists in a game on February 3, 2018 against the University of Alaska…only Samantha Beauchamp of Simon Fraser, Ali Nelke of Western Oregon, and Iraide Juez of Concordia have had five blocks in a game in the GNAC this season.
NEXT UP: The ‘Jackets host Western Oregon University on Saturday at Alterowitz Gym. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. in the back-end of a doubleheader with the MSUB men’s basketball team. Live video with play-by-play commentary and live statistics will be available online through MSUB’s Stretch Internet portal.