(MSUB Athletics release)
BELLINGHAM, Wash. – The third time wasn’t the charm for the No. 5 seed Montana State University Billings men’s basketball team as they fell 79-72 to No. 4 seed Western Oregon University in the quarterfinals of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Championships Thursday night at Carver Gymnasium.
The Wolves top-ranked defense keyed a 12-2 run to open the second half and they pulled away from the Yellowjackets for the third time this year, bringing an end to a successful first season for head coach Mick Durham, a season that included a trip to the post-season and an above .500 overall record (15-14, 10-10 GNAC).
“I felt nervous at the start of the second half,” commented Mick Durham after the game. “Western Oregon really set the tone right away. We were tied heading into halftime and we couldn’t hold on but I was proud of how we battled back. We made a couple free throws late to get back within five points late which was good but we just had a difficult time getting stops because their guards are so strong with their penetration. We had a couple miscues on offense but I think the biggest thing was we didn’t turn the ball over and because of that we gave ourselves a chance to win.”
Senior Zack Rollins spearheaded the Yellowjacket offense with 23 points (6-for-15) and Sven Jeuschede played 26 minutes in his final game as a Yellowjacket and had three points and a pair of rebounds. Tied 32-32 going into halftime, the Wolves suffocated MSUB on defense out of the break and charged to a 12-2 run over the first four minutes, 12 seconds of the second half. One minute later, the Wolves grabbed their biggest lead of the game (11 points) and shot 66-percent over the stretch, forcing MSUB to play catch up the rest of the way.
Western Oregon featured a balanced offensive attack and five players reached double figures. Riley Hawken led the team with 15 points and five rebounds. Darius Lubom recorded 13 points and Dalven Brushier and Buster Souza each found the scoresheet with 12 points.
The Wolves outshot the ‘Jackets 46-percent to 34-percent and both teams secured the basketball well. MSUB was narrowly defeated in the turnover category after committing 10 turnovers compared to nine for WOU.
Rollins led all players with five made three-point shots and helped keep the ‘Jackets within range of a tie in the second half. The ‘Jackets made 10 of 23 attempts from beyond the arc (43-percent) while the Wolves connected on seven of 16 long range shots (43-percent).
After nine lead changes in the opening half, the teams went into the break even at 32-32. Rollins had nine points including a 3-pointer to lift the ‘Jackets ahead by five with under three minutes remaining.
The Yellowjackets took their largest lead 25-17 before Western Oregon seized back control with an 8-0 run with 4:39 left in the half to tie it. Kobe Terashima pitched in seven points off the bench while Seth Christiaens made the most of five minutes on the floor with a block and a defensive rebound. Sven Jeuschede was also on the receiving end of a motivating charging call in the paint with six minutes to play in the first half.
After the Wolves strung together their galvanizing 12-2 run, the Yellowjackets eventually closed the gap to five at 77-72 but were forced to foul to get possession back in the final minute of the contest. Team leading scorer Brendan Howard had 20 points for MSUB after going 8-for-13 from the field and 2-for-4 from the free throw line.
The ‘Jackets made 12 of 16 free throw attempts (75-percent) but went just four of seven in the second half. Western Oregon shot 90.9-percent from the line having made 10 of 11 free throws.
WOU out-rebounded the Yellowjackets 31-28. Howard led MSUB with six boards. Kaleb Warner also had six rebounds for Western Oregon.
The Yellowjackets moved to 0-3 in the season series with Western Oregon but Thursday night’s game represented the closest margin of victory (seven points) to date. The last time MSU Billings qualified for the GNAC tournament was 2016-17. There, the ‘Jackets suffered another quarterfinal loss at the hands of the Western Oregon Wolves 72-61.
Western Oregon moves into the semifinals and is scheduled to play No. 1 seed Saint Martin’s University Friday night in Bellingham.
THE BUZZ: Zack Rollins was named St. Vincent Healthcare player of the game for MSU Billings. Rollins shot 5-for-12 from the 3-point line with 23 points, four assists, and three rebounds.