(MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – Heading into its stretch run, the Montana State University Billings men’s basketball team is at home for the last time this week with a pair of intriguing opponents. The Yellowjackets (11-11, 6-8 GNAC) host Simon Fraser University (12-10, 6-8 GNAC) on Valentine’s Day at 5:15 p.m. followed by Western Washington (12-12, 6-8 GNAC) Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
All three teams are tied for sixth in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference standing and it is exactly six teams that will gain entrance into the conference post-season tournament. The past indicates both games are likely to be close on the scoreboard. On January 17, MSUB beat Western Washington in overtime 81-72 in Bellingham, Washington. Two days later, MSU Billings fell in Burnaby, British Columbia 112-107 in triple overtime to Simon Fraser.
“This weekend is pretty critical for sure,” commented head coach Mick Durham. “We can’t afford to get swept in the season series against Simon Fraser and we’ll have a great chance to sweep Western Washington.”
Fans can catch doubleheaders on both Thursday and Saturday night as the MSUB women’s basketball team also plays home contests. Those unable to make it to Alterowitz Gymnasium in person are encouraged to watch the games live with play-by-play commentary and statistics via MSUB’s stretch live internet portal.
PINK NIGHT: All fans who wear pink on Thursday will receive free admission to both games, and all proceeds from the evening will be donated to the St. Vincent Healthcare EVA Project. The MSUB women spent Monday evening having dinner with members of the EVA Project, which is focused on supporting those with breast cancer and striving to find a cure for the disease. Thursday’s game marks the 13th straight year that the Yellowjackets have featured a Pink Night on their schedule, and breast cancer survivors in attendance will be recognized in a pregame ceremony. Other fundraisers at Thursday’s games will include a 50-50 raffle, and pink t-shirts will be on sale for $20 each.
FAN FEAST: MSUB campus dining partner Sodexo will feature a special catered dinner on Saturday evening beginning at 5:30 p.m. Saturday’s meal options include a carved ham dinner with a beverage and dessert for $12, or a personal pan pizza with a 24-ounce fountain soda for $8. An additional seating area for dining will be provided in the lobby outside Alterowitz Gym.
STRETCH RUN BREAKDOWN: The Yellowjackets are in close to must-win scenarios this weekend against SFU and WWU. MSUB is tied with both of this week’s opponents in the GNAC standings but only one is currently in playoff position. The ‘Jackets also face much difficulty in the remainder of their schedule. After finishing with senior day on Saturday, MSUB is on the road for four straight games to close out the regular season.
Carrying a 1-6 record on the road so far, the ‘Jackets still have matchups against Seattle Pacific (13-6, 10-4), No. 19 Saint Martin’s (19-3, 12-2), Alaska Anchorage (12-10, 7-7), and Alaska Fairbanks (5-16, 2-12). At home, the story has been positive. MSUB is 10-4 at Alterowitz Gymnasium with home victories over Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska Anchorage, Concordia, Seattle Pacific, and Central Washington.
GREEN CONTINUES TO LEAD: Tyler Green averages 16.7 points per game for the Yellowjackets, fifth best in the conference. He has two games with more than 30 points, including the triple overtime game against Simon Fraser University. An increased awareness around the league of Green’s 3-point propensity has only marginally slowed his success rate and he remains the league’s top 3-point shooter with 82 made triples and an average of 3.7 per game. Green is currently eighth in three-point field goal percentage at .448 (82-for-183). Green was held to just eight points against Western Oregon on Saturday but has been under double-figures in just three of 22 games this winter.
INJURY REPORT: Beijan Newbern remains out for the season for MSUB. Leading GNAC rebounder Melvin Newbern Jr. has been forced to miss each of the last two games but is probable to return on Thursday against Simon Fraser.
HOWARD THE DUNK: Freshman Brendan Howard is up to second on the team with 15.0 points per game after starting back-to-back contests in the absence of Newbern Jr. last weekend. Howard made the most of his extra minutes by scoring 18 points Thursday, then a season high 27 points Saturday against WOU. Howard shot 12-for-15 against the Wolves and grabbed seven rebounds. The Great Falls native spent a season as a redshirt at Eastern Washington University before joining older brother and assistant coach Bobby Howard at MSUB.
HOW MSUB STACKS UP: MSU Billings scores 80.3 points per game (fifth) and allows 78.1 points to its opponents (eighth). The ‘Jackets are eighth in free throw percentage (.711), fifth in field goal percentage (.469), fourth in 3-point field goal percentage (.373), and fourth in assists (335). On defense, MSUB is fifth in offensive rebounding (36.2 rpg) and eighth in defensive rebounding (35.5 rpg). The team has steadily improved its assist to turnover ratio and has 335 assists compared to 292 turnovers. Last season the ‘Jackets finished 13-18 overall and 5-15 (9th) in the GNAC standings. This year the team is 11-11 and 6-8 in the conference.
Scouting Simon Fraser University
Game Day: Thursday, February 14 – 5:15 p.m.
2018-19 Record: 12-10, 6-8 GNAC, 10-3 home, 2-6 away, 0-1 neutral
Form: W , W , W , L , W
Head Coach: Steve Hanson (third season)
2017-18 Record: 10-18, 4-16 GNAC, 8-6 home, 0-10 away, 2-2 neutral
The Clan claimed GNAC team of the week honors on Monday after taking down first-place Saint Martin’s, then doubling down with another win this week over second-place Northwest Nazarene to earn their third straight win.
Since beating the Yellowjackets on January 19 in triple overtime, the Clan rallied to win five of their last seven games and has gone from the second to last in the conference to a tie for sixth. Julian Roche is a 6-foot-11 senior center who leads SFU with 14.9 points per contest. Roche is tied for fourth in the GNAC with 7.0 rebounds per game.
Junior guard Othniel Spence has been putting up 14.3 points per game and 3.8 rebounds while freshman guard Wilfried Balata is up to 12.8 points per game and 5.7 rebounds.
“I think Simon Fraser is playing as well as anybody right now,” Durham said. “They’ve established on the their home court and picked up a road win against Saint Martin’s so I like their team. They’ve got size, a veteran point guard, and a couple scorers on the wings. The triple overtime game we played at Simon Fraser is definitely in our mind so I think our guys will be excited to play them again.”
Simon Fraser is second in the conference with 81.8 points per game and fifth in team defense as they allow opponents to score 72.9 points against. SFU shoots less 3-pointers than three other GNAC teams but is the most efficient at .386 from long range. The Clan is also ahead of MSUB in both offensive and defensive rebounding categories.
MSUB is unlikely to get a lot of shots blocked against the Clan but SFU is the league’s second best passing team with 16.5 assists per game behind Alaska Anchorage. Simon Fraser grabs 7.7 steals (third) and rarely commits more turnovers than assists. Michael Provenzano leads the GNAC is assists with 105 (4.8 apg).
SFU’s three-game win streak is the second longest active streak in the conference. Seattle Pacific has won each of its last four. The Yellowjackets are 16-2 all-time against the Clan and 9-0 at home. The triple overtime loss earlier this season broke up a streak of 15 straight wins over SFU dating back to 2010.
Scouting Western Washington University
Game Day: Saturday, February 16 – 7:30 p.m. LT
2018-19 Record: 12-12, 6-8 GNAC, 7-4 home, 2-5 away, 3-3 neutral
Form: L, W, L, L, L
Head Coach: Tony Dominguez (seventh season)
2017-18 Record: 21-8, 16-4 GNAC, 11-5 home, 8-2 away, 2-1 neutral
The Vikings split a pair of games last week with a win over Central Washington 91-86 and a loss to (at the time No. 24) Northwest Nazarene 90-79. The Yellowjackets outscored WWU 15-6 in overtime when the teams met for the first time this season on January 17. Green had 19 points for MSUB while Brendan Howard recorded a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
An excellent free-throw shooting team, Western Washington is fourth in the league in points per game (81.7) and leads the GNAC in blocked shots (106) and offensive rebounding (290). WWU also shoots a high volume of three pointers (9.7 made 3-point shots per game), second only to Saint Martin’s.
The Yellowjackets will have to find ways to slow down junior forward Trevor Jasinsky, who is second in the GNAC in points per game at 20.0. Fouling him may not be the answer as Jasinsky has more made free throws than anyone in the league (127) and shoots 88-percent from the line. Jasinsky also grabs 7.0 rebounds per contest (T-4th) and has 26 steals, 18 blocks, and 58 assists.
“Jasinsky has been in the league for three years and developed from being a role player the last two years to more of a main guy,” said Durham. “He’s probably as complete an offensive player as we have in the league. Anytime you go against a scorer you want to make him work for his points and try to contest shots as best you can.”
The Vikings also have Luke Lovelady, a sophomore from Tacoma, Washington. The 6-foot-8 forward is the second most efficient shooter in the conference at a percentage of .636 from the field. Lovelady averages 10.1 points per game and 5.4 rebounds.
The Yellowjackets are 7-23 in the all-time series with WWU and 4-10 at home. The Vikings have won seven of the last 10 matchups between the two clubs.
KEY TO THE SERIES: “It always starts at the defensive end,” Durham said. “When we get stops and get out in the open court is when we’re playing our best. We try to take each game as its own separate entity so there isn’t too much pressure on any one game. We’ve played pretty well in Billings this season and our guys know it’s important to defend our home court so that’s what we are going to try to do.”
GNAC AT A GLANCE: Tuesday’s game between Western Washington and Simon Fraser was cancelled due to weather. Saint Martin’s moved up five spots to No. 14 in NCAA Division II with a 19-3 record (12-2 GNAC). Northwest Nazarene also received votes but did not make the top 25 NABC Coaches poll released on February 10. Western Oregon (17-6, 10-4) and Seattle Pacific (13-6, 10-4) are deadlocked for third place and Alaska Anchorage (12-10, 7-7) is alone in fifth.
HALL OF FAME WEEKEND: This weekend’s doubleheaders will sandwich the 2019 MSUB Hall of Fame & Distinction induction ceremony, which is on Friday evening at 5:30 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn. Tickets are still available for purchase at $30 each by calling 406-657-2369 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. This year’s inductees, Matt Schoonover (baseball), Shantell (Marquis) Wirtzberger (women’s basketball) and Navin Marimuthu (men’s tennis), will be honored in a ceremony on the court at halftime of Saturday’s men’s game. More information on the MSUB Hall of Fame and Distinction and this year’s inductees can be found online.
SENIOR NIGHT SATURDAY: The Yellowjackets will honor its three senior men’s basketball players in a ceremony before Saturday night’s game against Western Washington. They include Sven Jeuschede, Hafeez Abdul, and Zack Rollins. Jeuschede was named academic all-conference on Tuesday and has been with the Yellowjackets for four seasons.