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Early 22-0 run sparks MSU Billings men past Western Washington

MSUB Carrington Wiggins 22.png
Posted at 11:03 AM, Feb 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-15 13:03:15-05

(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Boosted by a 22-0 run early in the first half, the Montana State University Billings men’s basketball team had its best offensive outing of the season and spoiled Western Washington’s senior night in a big 91-64 road win on Monday night.

“I’m proud of how we fed off our start and maintained our lead late into the game,” MSUB head coach Mick Durham said. “Western Washington is a great place to play and a hard place to win at. Our guys have really come together on this six-game conference road trip, and we have a great challenge ahead of us Thursday with playing WWU in back-to-back games.”

The Yellowjackets (12-11, 8-5 Great Northwest Athletic Conference) shot a season-best 60% from the field and – like the team has done as of late – connected on a slew of early threes to jump out to a big lead on the Vikings’ (12-11, 5-8 GNAC). MSUB’s 27-point win was its largest in GNAC play since beating Saint Martin’s 96-67 on Jan. 16, 2020.

A slew of career-highs went down against the Vikings. Carrington Wiggins had a historically efficient night with 28 points on 11-for-12 shooting. His 91.7% shooting is tied for the third-most accurate shooting night (on a minimum 10 field goals made) in MSUB program history. Wiggins’ night is also the most efficient shooting performance in the GNAC while making at least 10 field goals this season.

Additionally, Damen Thacker surpassed 2,000 collegiate points midway through the first half on a lay-in off a pass from Sam Elliott. He finished with another productive outing, scoring 18 points, grabbing five rebounds and dishing out five assists. Thacker, who spent time at Southern Virginia University, Walla Walla Community College and the University of Idaho before starring for MSUB this season, reached a career milestone with his 2,000th collegiate point against the Vikings. So far, his 342 points in a MSUB uniform are his third-highest in a single season with at least five games to go.

“Our guards Carrington Wiggins and Damen Thacker were unbelievable tonight for us,” Durham added.

Four of MSUB’s five starters finished in double figures. Aside from the aforementioned Wiggins and Thacker, Emmanuel Ajanaku posted an 11-point, 10-rebound double-double. Bilal Shabazz had his second-straight game in double figures – and the third double-figure night on the road trip – with 12 points, four rebounds and team-highs with six assists and three steals. Nicholas Sebastiao and Malik Brikat also finished with eight points apiece.

QUICK HITS

  • MSUB put the game away with a 22-0 run in 6 minutes and 13 points during the first half.
  • Carrington Wiggins was named the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game for his 28-point night on 11-for-12 shooting, plus
  • Thacker surpassed 2,000 collegiate career points midway through the first half, scoring on a backdoor cut that put MSUB up 28-8 with 10:54 to go in the first half.
  • Jalen Green led the way for the Vikings with 16 points.

The Yellowjacket offense got any look it wanted in the first half – from backdoor cuts, to transition threes and straight-line drives to the basket en route to shooting

In a sign of things to come, Carrington Wiggins scored the first five points for MSUB: first with a nifty scoop shot, and then with a three well beyond the three-point line. Like the ‘Jackets have done over the last few games, they made three early threes and parlayed that into a 22-0 run to get ahead 24-4.

Nicholas Sebastiao made his first two threes, Bilal Shabazz chipped in his first of his two threes, then Sebastiao went up strong on a left-handed layup and was hacked by two Viking defenders to draw the foul. His two free-throws, then Damen Thacker’s first three of the night made it a 16-4 game with 13:51 to go.

Sebastiao had another and-one. Thacker stutter-stepped into a three. Malik Brikat’s block on one end, then basket on the other made it a 24-4 ballgame with 11:43 to go, essentially wrapping up the game before the Vikings could get anything going. With 10:56 to go, Sam Elliott seamed a bounce pass to a cutting Thacker, who laid it up at the rim to record his 2,000th career point and give MSUB a 28-8 lead.

Western Washington, meanwhile, missed their first eight threes of the ballgame and finally got into double-figures with Luke Lovelady’s layup with 10:20 left in the first. Although he made the ensuing free-throw and made a dunk on WWU’s next possession, the Yellowjackets’ lead was insurmountable.

Wiggins went on a 5-0 run, stepping out for his first three of the night and making his sixth-straight field goal in the process. Then Shabazz rifled a pass to Ajanaku for an easy lay-in; Shabazz got points of his own with his second three pointer of the night on the next possession, giving MSUB a 25-point lead at the 6:42 mark. MSUB got its largest lead of the night at that point moments later when Thacker faked a transition three and, on his way down, slammed a bounce pass to a cutting Malik Brikat, who scored an easy layup to put the ‘Jackets up 48-21.

All told, Wiggins made his first seven field goals – including banking in a tough, fall-away midrange jumper – en route to scoring 18 first-half points. MSUB’s 53 first-half points was a season-high and merely 12 points off of its 65 points-per-game average.

In the second half, MSUB had a 20-point lead for all but 49 seconds. MSUB’s defense set the tone early in the second half, as the ‘Jackets forced a turnover on WWU’s first possession. The Yellowjackets kept a 20-point lead for the majority of the second half; Wiggins made back-to-back threes to start the second half and help MSUB take a 61-37 lead with 17:26 to go.

WWU’s Jalen Green made field goals on consecutive baskets, but the ‘Jackets countered each run with field goals of their own. Shabazz reached double figures with his basket in the second half, then Thacker found Ajanaku for a basket at the rim to help MSUB take a 65-41 lead.

The Vikings went on a mini 4-0 run before Brikat’s layup rolled around the rim and in, helping MSUB keep a 20-point lead. Although this would be MSUB’s last bucket for over a minute, Thacker’s third three of the night snapped the brief scoreless streak gave MSUB a 70-49 lead with 11:42 to play.

Ajanaku had a productive sequence late, corralling his own miss at the rim to make it a 79-56 game, then drawing a foul on a rebound on the other end. MSUB eclipsed the 80-point mark for the fourth time this season off Ajanaku’s pair of free throws. Yet another field goal from Wiggins and a rim-rocking dunk from Ajanaku later, the ‘Jackets had a 85-57 lead on Western Washington at the final media timeout.

Two free throws from Thacker gave MSUB its first 30-point lead of the night with 3:44 to go, then Durham emptied his bench from that point forward. The ‘Jacket reserves closed out the final 3 minutes and 47 seconds. Jo Jones sank a pair of free throws, then Jones found Brikat for another basket to put the finishing touches on the win.

MSUB kicks off its final week of home games this season against Western Washington on Thursday night at 7 p.m. PT