(MSU Billings release)
BILLINGS – Senior Zack Rollins scored 22 points and the Montana State University Billings men’s basketball team closed out their first ever season sweep of Western Washington University 94-90 in a critical Great Northwest Athletic Conference game Saturday night at Alterowitz Gymnasium. The Yellowjackets led by as many as 17 in the first half but to defended against a late comeback effort by Western Washington late in the game to earn the victory.
“Western Washington is always one of the best teams in our league and they have a lot of tradition so it really was a big win for us tonight,” said MSUB head coach Mick Durham. “We had a good start and even though we were in foul trouble right away, the guys hung in there and no one fouled out. In the second half we made our free throws and then hit some big shots in what became a very offensive game.”
The Yellowjackets (13-11, 8-8 GNAC) won both games this week in the final home series of the regular season and moved into a tie for fifth place in the conference with Alaska Anchorage (13-11, 8-8 GNAC) who also won Saturday night against Central Washington. MSUB plays four road games to close out the regular season in search of a top-six spot in the GNAC to earn a trip to the conference tournament in Bellingham, Washington.
Rollins shot 7-for-15 from the field and added six assists and three rebounds for MSU Billings, but was far from the only offensive threat in the game. Tyler Green posted 20 points (6-for-12) and made four three pointers on eight attempts. The junior also contributed a team high seven assists, two steals, and three rebounds.
Brendan Howard scored 20 points and eight rebounds off the bench while adding three assists over 24 minutes. Melvin Newbern Jr. (12 points, three rebounds) and Zharon Richmond (10 points, six rebounds) also reached double-figures on the night.
The Yellowjackets shot 48-percent (30-62) from the floor and 45-percent from three point range. The box score was littered with 47 fouls including 22 by the ‘Jackets but no one reached five personals for MSUB, enabling coach Durham to play with lineup flexibility in the final minutes of the game. Both teams ended with 37 rebounds and Howard led all players with eight boards.
The Yellowjackets connected on 13 of 16 free throw attempts (77.8-percent) to help seal the game late in the second half.
FIRST HALF: The Yellowjackets shot 53.3 percent in the first half and took a 45-41 advantage into the break. Tyler Green jump started the offense with an early three pointer and MSUB pushed the lead to 17 points before Western Washington charged back with a 9-2 run to get within 10.
The flow of the half was frequently broken up by 23 combined personal fouls called in the first 20 minutes. Newbern Jr. was forced to the bench with three fouls midway 12 minutes into the game.
Cameron Retherford had 13 points for WWU and Micah Winn banked in a nearly half-court three point shot at the buzzer for the Vikings. Western Washington shot 40-percent in the first half.
“We were a little undisciplined in the first half which really isn’t like us,” Durham said. “We had some uncharacteristic fouls and it kind of became a tightly called game because of that.”
SECOND HALF: The Vikings cut the lead to two before Green floated in a long-range fadeaway to give the Yellowjackets breathing room again 57-48. Western Washington made another push for offense but the ‘Jackets staved off a tie game with back-to-back triples, made by senior Sven Jeuschede.
At the halfway point of period two, WWU starters KJ Bosco and Tyler Payne fouled out in succession but Trevor Jasinsky hit a three-pointer to bring the Vikings back to a one possession affair 83-80. Jasinsky drove to the rim again on the next possession but was called for an offensive foul. Newbern Jr. was on the receiving end of the charge.
Rollins drained a three pointer with 3:44 left and the Yellowjackets were frequently sent to the line for free throws in the last two minutes of play. Leif Anderson got the Vikings within three points by making a three-pointer with 43 seconds remaining but Trevor Jasinsky missed his three attempt to tie the game the next time down the floor.
Forced to foul, Western Washington fouled Rollins on the inbound pass and he went one for two from the line with five seconds left to push the score to 94-90, finally closing the door on WWU last chance.
“For Rollins and Sven to hit shots and have a big game on senior night was great,” said Durham. “Especially since Zack didn’t score at all on Thursday for him to come in and make some big shots for us was something special.”
Retherford had 19 points and five rebounds for WWU. Micah Winn scored 19 points and had three rebounds and Leif Anderson put in 14 points for the Vikings with four rebounds and two steals.
WHAT THE SENIORS SAID:
SVEN JEUSCHEDE: on playing close games: “As a competitor it’s always fun to play in games that come down to the last couple possessions. To win a close one tonight was even sweeter than winning by 30 or 40 points.”
On being the glue guy all season: “I just try to go out there, lead, and play tough defense. Offensively I just try to hit my open shots and that’s all I have to do. Just play solid and keep the team together.”
On five players scoring double figures: “We have so many weapons offensively. We don’t usually have to worry about not being able to score. Many different guys are capable of going off on any given night. It’s that great inside-out balance that makes it so hard to guard us as a team.”
Favorite memory at MSUB: “I really don’t know. I’ve had so many great memories here at Alterowitz Gym over the last four years. I think tonight was really very special. We pulled out a big win on senior night against a good team so I’d probably say tonight was the most memorable.”
ZACK ROLLINS: On coach stressing assist to turnover ratio: “Coach Durham came in and talked about how we needed to have a positive assist to turnover ratio this year. That’s something we definitely stressed and it’s easy when you have teammates who can make shots as well.”
On MSUB’s spread out scoring: “We have so many guys even deep on the bench who can come in and score points and that’s what has made this year so fun. It’s not a team where the opponent can just focus on stopping one guy and we win a lot of games because of that.”
On hitting important shots in the second half: “We hit timely shots tonight and something that is something I have prided myself on throughout my time here. I know they rely on me to come through with timely shots.”
“We have a lot of momentum right now and we know what each team likes to do so we are really looking forward to these last four games.”
Best memory playing at home: “I’d have to say beating Rocky Mountain College here this year was my favorite moment. That was a fun game to play in and gave us some bragging rights for sure.”
THE BUZZ: Zack Rollins was named St. Vincent Player of the Game for MSUB…MSU Billings swept the season series with the Vikings for the first time in school history. They also picked up a conference weekend sweep for the first time since November 27-December 1 against Alaska Fairbanks and Alaska Anchorage.
UP NEXT: The ‘Jackets are on the road next weekend to play Seattle Pacific and No. 19 Saint Martin’s. The final road trip of the year features games against Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Fairbanks. The GNAC Championships take place March 7-9 in Bellingham, Washington, should the Yellowjackets qualify.