(MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – After clinching the playoffs on the final night of the regular season, the Montana State University Billings men’s basketball team earned the No. 5 seed and will face No. 4 seed Western Oregon University in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference quarterfinals Thursday, March 7 at 7:30 p.m. in Bellingham, Washington.
Tickets to the Championships are available at gnachooptickets.com. Fans in Billings are also encouraged to attend the Yellowjacket watch party, where the game can be viewed live on multiple screens at 406 Kitchen and Tap Room.
The Yellowjackets have made the conference tournament four times in the last 10 seasons but have not won a playoff game since their conference title drive in 2011-12. This year, the Jackets come in with a 10-10 conference record and face the defending GNAC post-season champion Wolves at Carver Gymnasium in the first game of the single elimination tournament.
Western Oregon was the only team MSU Billings failed to solve in the regular season. WOU defeated MSUB 81-65 in Billings on January 10, then soundly defeated the Yellowjackets 97-65 in Monmouth, Oregon on February 9.
“Western Oregon really had their way with us by winning three of the four halves we played,” lamented MSUB head coach Mick Durham. “We have to find ways to score this third time and execute better than we have against them. We’re excited to be in and playing a third time on a neutral court. I do believe we’ve continued to get better as the year went on. It should be an exciting tournament.”
Though they will be solid underdogs, the Yellowjackets have at least six players capable of producing big numbers against any opponent. Junior guard Tyler Green was one of the top three-point shooters in the league this season and was named second team all-conference after averaging more than 15 points per game. Senior Zack Rollins led the team in scoring as a junior and followed with another strong campaign this season, scoring 14 points per contest. Rollins along with freshman Brendan Howard were tabbed all-conference honorable mention ahead of this week’s quarterfinal game.
The Yellowjackets scored 79.5 points per game (fourth) and allowed 76.4 points to their opponents (seventh). MSUB was middle of the pack in most statistical categories, including fourth in field goal percentage (.469), third in 3-point field goal percentage (.377), sixth in offensive rebounding (35.6 rpg), and seventh in defensive rebounding (35.6 rpg).
For much of the season, Melvin Newbern Jr. was at the top of the league in rebounds. The transfer junior ended with 7.6 rebounds per game for third place after missing two games due to injury in late January. Newbern Jr. led the ‘Jackets with 35 steals and had 10.9 points per game along with 51 total assists.
Sven Jeuschede is one of three Yellowjackets to start every game. The senior guard/forward out of Roesrath, Germany has been a calming force on the floor. He averaged 26.8 minutes and 5.2 points while chipping in 2.5 rebounds and 42 assists. Of the top seven Yellowjacket minutes munchers, Jeuschede committed the least number of turnovers and continues to provide stability to a team with proven offensive flair.
Tyler Green led MSU Billings in scoring until Saturday, when Brendan Howard posted 25 points against Alaska Fairbanks to finish the season with 436 total points, a measly one point ahead of Green’s 435. Howard had seven games of 20 points or more, six of which came in the season’s second half.
The Yellowjackets picked up their first road weekend sweep when they needed it the most. Thursday night, MSUB downed the Alaska Anchorage Seawolves 67-56. Kobe Terashima had 16 points and 11 rebounds to record his second career double-double, first of the year. Howard and Newbern Jr. also chipped in 11 points apiece and MSUB shot 44-percent.
Saturday, the Yellowjackets overwhelmed Alaska Fairbanks 92-65 and never trailed in the contest to clinch the post-season. Howard led the way with 25 points and seven rebounds while Rollins posted 19 points