(MSU Billings release)
BILLINGS – Second half defense and a relentless desire to win one-on-one battles pushed the Montana State University Billings men’s basketball team to an 83-60 win over Simon Fraser University Thursday night at Alterowitz Gymnasium in a critical Great Northwest Athletic Conference matchup. Brendan Howard scored 20 points (7-for-15) and came down with six rebounds to lead the Yellowjackets while four other players reached double figures for MSUB.
The Yellowjackets dominated defensively and scored 32 points off 23 turnovers by the Clan. Meanwhile, MSUB committed just two turnovers in the first half and nine total for the game.
“It was a great win for us,” commented head coach Mick Durham. “We had a couple tough games on the road last week but being able to bounce back against the team that we are close to in the standings was really critical. Second time through the GNAC, I told our guys that the offense wasn’t necessarily going to be pretty. We upped our pressure defensively a little bit and did a couple of different things with ball screens but we also forced 23 turnovers which ended up to be the difference in the game. In the end we just wore them down.”
The Yellowjackets (12-11, 7-8) moved ahead of Simon Fraser (12-11, 6-9) in the GNAC standings and took sole possession of sixth place, moving a half-game ahead of Saturday’s opponent Western Washington (12-12, 6-8), who was idle Thursday night.
Brendan Howard and Sven Jeuschede were difference makers on defense, playing 29 and 35 minutes respectively for MSUB. The Clan played a full-court press in an attempt to get point guard Tyler Green off balance, but he remained steady throughout the entire game as the ‘Jackets fought to stave off any attempt at a late comeback run by SFU. Off the bench, Kobe Terashima faced similar obstacles but ended with 13 points, shooting 11-for-11 from the free-throw line.
“Making free throws really helps when you are trying to build and keep a lead,” Durham said. “It’s hard when your opponent is pressing and as a point guard it can be tough but our guys did a good job of staying composed in press situations.”
“I thought Kobe, Sven, and Brendan really were our stabilizing force and the whole team played through some adversity to get it done in the first half and the second half.”
Zharon Richmond shot 6-for-13 and had 17 points. Green pitched in 11 points and Melvin Newbern Jr. played 18 minutes and had 10 points after missing two games due to injury last week.
Both teams got off to a rocky first half start. MSUB began 1-for-10 from the field but held a 13-8 lead after Green drove to the rim and laid in two finger rolls on back-to-back possessions. The Clan shot 1-for-6 to start but began to kick in the offense after Julian Roche banked in a three-pointer to give SFU their first and only lead. Turnovers plagued SFU for most of the half and the ‘Jackets led 29-23 into the break.
Richmond hit a three-pointer to open the second half and Green went coast-to-coast for a layup that gave MSU Billings its largest lead of the night to that point 46-36. More solid defense by Howard forced multiple travel calls against SFU forwards at the 10-minute mark. Then the Clan began to press MSUB in an attempt to force turnovers.
The ‘Jackets continued to gain confidence and extended their lead to 20 heading into the final minutes of the game. Melvin Newbern Jr. took a long pass from Jeuschede and found himself wide open for the one-handed dunk to put the finishing touch on a signature 81-60 victory.
MSU Billings shot 43.3-percent (26-for-60) in the game and 29.4-percent (5-for-17) from three-point range. The ‘Jackets also went to the free throw line 23 times and missed just three attempts to shoot 89.7-percent. After scoring zero points off the bench last weekend against Western Oregon, four players combined for 41 bench points against SFU. Brendan Howard had 20 points in 29 minutes on the floor. Terashima scored 13 in 21 minutes and Jordan Lehrer contributed six points, two assists, four rebounds, and one steal in 22 minutes of playing time.
Michael Provonzano led the Clan with 17 points (6-for-10) and had four boards, five assists, and one block. Jasdeep Singh scored 13 points (5-for-8) and Wilfried Balata had 10 points with five made free throws.
The Yellowajackets snapped Simon Fraser’s three game winning streak with the vcitory Thursday night. SFU had beaten both of the top ranked teams in the GNAC over the last two weeks and climbed from second to last in the standings up to sixth. The Clan led by two points just over one minute into the first half before MSUB held the advantage the rest of the way, pushing their largest margin to 23 points six seconds short of the final buzzer.
MSU Billings outscored Simon Fraser 40-22 for points in the paint while fast break points were even at 2-2. The Clan narrowly out-rebounded the ‘Jackets 36-34 but MSUB had 11 second chance points versus seven for SFU.
Montana State Billings plays its final home game Saturday night against Western Washington University in another important game in the fight to reach the six team conference tournament which will take place in Bellingham, Washington. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. at the conclusion of the MSUB women’s basketball game.
“This next one against Western Washington is huge for us,” said MSUB freshman forward Brendan Howard. “The two games this weekend are probably the most important games we’ve been up against so far.”
After facing off against Western Washington Saturday, The Yellowjackets finish the season with four straight road games beginning with Seattle Pacific and No. 19 Saint Martin’s next week.
THE BUZZ: Brendan Howard was named St. Vincent Player of the game for the Yellowjackets….MSUB improved to 17-2 all-time against the Clan and remained undefeated at home…The ‘Jackets are 11-4 at home, three wins better than a year ago and five wins ahead of 2016-17 with one home game left to play…The Yellowjackets lost 112-107 in triple overtime to Simon Fraser on January 19. They split the season series with the Clan with their win Thursday night.