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MSU Billings men overpower Central Washington; women fall in OT

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Posted at 8:47 AM, Feb 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-25 10:47:29-05

(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)

ELLENSBURG, Wash. – The Montana State University Billings men’s basketball team didn’t need any late heroics this time around against the Central Washington Wildcats.

All nine Yellowjackets scored, the team shot a season-best 54.5% from three and the team never trailed in a 90-77 romp at Central Washington on Thursday night. The Yellowjackets (13-13, 9-7 Great Northwest Athletic Conference) had a balanced offensive attack against the Wildcats (14-8, 8-7 GNAC), as four players finished in double-figures.

“This is about as resilient of a team as I’ve ever been around,” MSUB head coach Mick Durham said. “They keep bouncing back and they don’t let one game affect the other. We had a great start and rode that momentum all game. Damen Thacker was outstanding, but Bilal Shabazz and Sam Elliott were huge for us. Our rebounding has been a bright spot all year, and it was one for us again tonight.”

Damen Thacker led all scorers with a 30-point night – including nine-straight points in the second half to put the Wildcats at arm’s length – to go along with eight rebounds and four assists. Bilal Shabazz notched his first MSUB career double-double with a career-high 16 points and 10 rebounds. Sam Elliott also had a MSUB career high with 10 points, plus reigning GNAC Player of the Week Carrington Wiggins added 16 points and tied the team-high with four assists.

The win moved MSUB up to fourth in the GNAC standings (in terms of true win-loss percentage) with a 9-7 record, setting up Saturday night’s regular-season finale at second-ranked Northwest Nazarene.

In a sign of things to come, Damen Thacker sank his first three field goals of the ballgame, plus Bilal Shabazz made his first three of the night to help the Yellowjackets take an 11-6 lead before the first media timeout. Although Central Washington tried to turn up the tempo early, the Wildcats couldn’t connect in transition. Once MSUB controlled the tempo of the game, the Yellowjackets scored early and often.

When Durham went to his bench midway through the first half, the reserves shone. In his best outing of the season, Sam Elliott burned the Wildcats in the pick-and-roll. The senior from Kalispell, Mont. got the bulk of his points in the first half – first on a layup, then off a three when Jo Jones found him wide open at the top of the key. Back-to-back threes from Shabazz and Jones helped MSUB push its lead to 12, then Shabazz scored the next five points for the Yellowjackets to make it a 37-25 ballgame.

MSUB kept piling it on Central Washington in the first half. Blanketed by two defenders, Thacker double-clutched a three that sparked a 10-0 run that included a breakaway dunk from Carrington Wiggins, another three from Elliott out of the pick-and-roll, then capped off when Wiggins gave MSUB a 17-point lead with 2:30 to play. Going into halftime, MSUB had a 47-35 lead.

The Wildcats clawed back into the game to open the second half and cut MSUB’s lead to single-digits with a free throw from Matt Poquette to make the score 49-40 with 17:03 left. Sebastiao’s lay-in brought the lead back to 10, but the Wildcats pulled within six, 52-46.

Then Thacker took over.

The senior guard scored the next nine points for MSUB: first with a jumper, then he weaved from one side of the arc to the next and created enough space for a three and then with a dunk that got the MSUB bench to its feet. After trading baskets with CWU’s David Thompson, Thacker crossed up Thompson’s teammate Isaiah Banks, then hit Banks with a spin move and nailed a midrange jumper to make the score 61-52, MSUB.

The haymaker of the night came on a 10-0 run from MSUB over the span of 3 minutes and 31 seconds. Central Washington’s Micah Pollard made a three to make it a 67-59 ballgame with 9:20 remaining, but the Yellowjackets would rattle off 10 straight points and take their largest lead of the night. Ajanaku started things off with another lay-in at the rim, then Wiggins finished a right-handed layup through contact and calmly sank the ensuing free-throw. Nicholas Sebastiao’s corner three in front of MSUB’s bench on the next possession gave MSUB a 75-59 lead, then Shabazz found Brikat in transition for a layup to give the Yellowjackets their largest lead of the night, up 77-59.

From there, the Yellowjackets cruised. Although the Wildcats tried putting pressure on MSUB with their press, the Wildcats never cut the lead to single-digits. Yet another three from Thacker put MSUB up 82-67 with 2:30 to play, then the ‘Jackets made their last eight free-throws down the stretch to seal the victory.

MSUB’s regular-season finale is against Northwest Nazarene on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

In the women's game, Kizzah Maltezo connected on a desperation three at the buzzer of regulation on Thursday night, keeping host Central Washington University alive in its eventual 81-77 overtime win over Montana State University Billings in GNAC play.

The last-ditch trey, which tied the score at 69-69, overshadowed a career-high 30 points from Yellowjacket senior Taryn Shelley, who completed a double-double with 14 rebounds as well. Maltezo led the Wildcats with 29 points, including six in an overtime period in which CWU out-scored MSUB 12-8 to close out the win. “It’s a difficult loss to swallow, but it shows that we are one of the top teams in the conference and that we can play with anyone,” MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin said, making reference to the Wildcats entering the week at No. 2 in the NCAA D2 west region rankings. “It was a great game. I liked our focus tonight, and we had players step up in Dani (Zahn)’s absence. Our guards played very well and we competed very hard the entire game. We are looking forward to Saturday and next week.”

After a back-and-forth start to the game, Dyauni Boyce made a jumper with 1:37 to go in the first half that put the Yellowjackets ahead 30-28. MSUB didn’t trail again until Maltezo’s fourth and final three of the game in overtime, as the ‘Jackets held command for the entirety of the second half.

The Yellowjackets led by as much as 13 points with 2:52 to go in the third quarter, and it took the hosts out-pacing MSUB 26-14 in the fourth to set up the overtime finish. “They made a lot of shots, especially in the fourth quarter, and give them credit for that,” said Woodin. “I really liked our effort and I think we did a lot of great things tonight. We took a step forward.”

Kortney Nelson matched her career highs with 16 points and seven assists, while adding seven rebounds and three steals in 38 minutes on the floor. Shayla Montague made 4 of 9 threes in the game for 12 points, while Cariann Kunkel added eight points, five assists, and three boards. The Yellowjackets snapped a four-game winning streak, moving to 16-10 overall and 10-4 in conference play with the defeat. “Taryn was very good around the basket, and our players gave her some excellent passes,” said Woodin. “It was nice to see Shayla shooting the ball well again, and Kortney did a good job filling in at the point guard position.”

Samantha Bowman, who entered the game leading the NCAA Division II with 15.4 rebounds per game, led all players with 18 boards to help the Wildcats narrowly out-rebound the ‘Jackets 47-46. Bowman completed a double-double with 12 points, while the GNAC’s second-leading scorer, Kassidy Malcolm, finished with a 15-point, 12-rebound double-double. Valerie Huerta, who caused the Yellowjackets strife early in the contest, added 16 points to go along with six assists. Central improved to 19-7 overall and is now 12-5 in conference play.

Central Washington trailed by as much as 10 points with 8:09 to go in regulation, before slowly working back into the game. Maltezo, who had just one point in the first half, hit three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and had 12 points in the final six minutes. The fifth-year senior buried a trey from the wing with 14.1 seconds to go in the game, cutting the deficit to a single point with the Wildcats trailing 67-66 before her heroic final strike.

Shelley’s first shot of the night came from the arc, where she knocked down a trey to give the Yellowjackets the first lead of the night 3-0. It was her first of 12 field goals in the game, as she matched her career best. Nelson helped counteract a red-hot start by Huerta, as she scored seven points and grabbed two boards in the first six minutes of the game. Huerta meanwhile hit her first three field goals, including a pair of treys for eight early points that helped pull the score level at 10-10 midway through the first quarter.

Huerta kept her heat going, ending the first quarter with her third trey to give the Wildcats an 18-16 edge after 10 minutes of play. Huerta’s 13 first-half points made up for the combination of Bowman, Malcolm, and Maltezo scoring just 14 points in the first 20 minutes.

The Wildcats went on a 6-0 run early in the second quarter, before a bucket by Shelley got the ‘Jackets back on track down 26-23. MSUB used the momentum to out-pace CWU to a 33-30 advantage at halftime.

MSUB shot 39.5 percent in the game (30-for-76), while making 8 of 22 threes (36.4 percent). The league’s leading free-throw shooting team entering the game at 75.4 percent, MSUB made just 9 of 13 tries (69.2 percent) on Thursday. CWU by comparison shot 38.7 percent overall (29-for-75), while hitting 13 of 38 threes (34.2 percent) and 10 of 13 free throws (76.9). CWU won despite receiving just six points from the bench, while both teams limited their turnovers as they combined for 20 on the night.

Addison Gardner came through with seven rebounds, Aspen Giese added six, and Shannon Reny made a pair of field goals including a three on her way to five points in nine minutes off the bench.

The regular season concludes on Saturday night in Nampa, Idaho, with the Yellowjackets squaring off against Northwest Nazarene University. Tipoff is set for 5:15 p.m.