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Seattle Pacific women hold off MSU Billings rally, 79-74

Posted at 11:01 PM, Jan 31, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-01 01:01:01-05

(MSUB Athletics release)

SEATTLE – Great Northwest Athletic Conference leading scorer Hannah Collins paced all players with 25 points on Thursday night at Brougham Pavilion, but it wasn’t enough for the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team as host Seattle Pacific University escaped with a 79-74 win.

Junior Taylor Cunningham played perhaps the most complete game of her career, with 11 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and three blocks in 35 minutes, and Jeanann Lemelin contributed a career-best 12 points for MSUB. But the Falcons held tough in a trying fourth quarter, never relinquishing the lead despite a handful of chances for the ‘Jackets to pull in front.

“We got off to a poor start which really dug us a hole,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “We had to use three timeouts in the first half and did not have any for the final minute, which hurt us. Give SPU credit, as they answered every rally we had tonight.”

MSUB dropped to 8-9 overall on the year and is now 4-7 in conference play with the defeat. One of the team’s best chances to take the lead came with 1:40 left on the clock, and the Falcons in front 73-72. A careless turnover gave MSUB possession, but the ‘Jackets missed a pair of shots on the opposite end and squandered the opportunity.

“We either need to be good at transition defense or offensive rebounding,” said Woodin on a night where the Falcons enjoyed a 50-35 advantage on the boards. “It is very difficult to win in this league unless you can do one of those things well, and right now we aren’t doing either well. We also need to shoot the three better.”

After that, SPU went 6-for-6 from the free-throw line to seal the game over the final 90 seconds of play. The Falcons shook off consecutive losses, improving to 7-12 overall and an even 6-6 in league play to stay well in the hunt for a postseason spot.

Cici West had her GNAC-second best sixth double-double of the year, with 14 points and 12 rebounds in just 24 minutes off the bench. Riley Evans led her team with 18 points, Kaprice Boston turned in a dozen, and Hannah Bennett was also in double figures with 10.

MSUB got off to a slow start and trailed 20-14 after the opening quarter of play, but rallied in the second and faced just a 38-33 deficit by halftime. Emily St. John injected the ‘Jackets with energy in a crucial period late in the second, blocking a shot, converting two free throws, and hitting a big three to cut the score to 34-31. The redshirt freshman finished the night with five points and a season-high five rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench.

After Brina Hull knocked down a pair of foul shots in the third quarter, Lemelin came through with a steal and a layup to push SPU to take a timeout as its lead was cut to 50-48. Collins followed with a last-second three to finish the period, and the ‘Jackets trailed by just one with 54-53 with 10 minutes to play.

Though the Falcons bent, they never broke as the Yellowjackets could not get over the hump and take the lead. Evans and Jaylee Albert connected on back-to-back threes and upped the spread to 69-61 as time wound down, forcing Woodin to call a timeout with 5:25 to go in the game.

MSUB continued to cut into the lead, but went 0-for-5 in field goals in the vital final 1:30 of action. Overall in the game MSUB shot 35.7 percent from the floor (25-for-70), but just 19.2 percent from 3-point range (5-for-26). The Yellowjackets made the most of their trips to the foul line, knocking down a season-high 19 shots in 20 attempts.

The Falcons meanwhile hit at a clip of 41.5 percent from the field (27-for-65), but also struggled from long range at just 21.1 percent (4-for-19). SPU matched MSUB’s excellence from the foul line, making 21 of 22 shots (95.5 percent).

Collins upped her season scoring average to 16.0 points per game, moving 0.61 points ahead of No. 2 Alexis Pana of Central Washington University (15.39 ppg). The sophomore went 8-for-15 overall including 2-for-5 from 3-point range, and matched her career high by making all seven of her free-throw attempts on the evening.

Cunningham’s three blocks were a personal best, and she was one off her career high of nine rebounds in the game. Her five-assist performance made it five straight games with multiple assists, and during that span she is averaging 4.8 helpers per game.

THE BUZZ: Cunningham was named the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…MSUB is now 22-32 all-time against Seattle Pacific and is 5-22 in games played in Seattle…Lemelin had a previous high of 10 points in a game, which she achieved twice this season…it was Cunningham’s second career multi-block game, as she bested her previous mark of two on February 10, 2018 at Northwest Nazarene…MSUB is just 2-6 this season when it makes fewer than eight 3-pointers in a game…MSUB’s line of 19-for-20 from the foul line was the third-best figure by a GNAC team this season with only one miss…only Concordia’s mark of 23-for 24 (95.8 percent) against Cal State San Bernardino on November 16 was better than SPU’s and MSUB’s marks on Thursday night…MSUB has seven of the top-20 single-game free-throw percentages by GNAC teams this season, the most by any conference team…MSUB’s 70 field-goal attempts on Thursday night were a season high.

NEXT UP: MSUB takes on Saint Martin’s University on Saturday evening at 5:15 p.m. Pacific/6:15 p.m. Mountain time in Lacey. Live video with play-by-play commentary and live statistics will be available online through the MSUB Stretch Internet portal.