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MSU Billings women send off seniors with win, men sweep SPU

MSUB WBB Seniors 22.png
Posted at 8:22 AM, Feb 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-14 10:22:07-05

(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)

BILLINGS – A determined Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team ran away from Western Oregon University for a 72-52 Great Northwest Athletic Conference win at Alterowitz Gym on Senior Night Saturday.

Playing in her final game on her home floor, senior Taryn Shelley led the way with a 16-point, 11-rebound double-double to spark a strong second half by the hosts. Senior Addison Gardner finished with 15 points and four rebounds in just her second game back after missing six weeks with an injury, and Shannon Reny, making her second-career start, posted four points and four boards.

“Tonight was an awesome win for our team and especially our seniors,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “We started a bit slow but had a nice run near the end of the first quarter and then played solid the rest of the night. Our defense was very good, and we were contesting shots well and communicating great. We do need to be better on the defensive boards.”

MSUB out-rebounded the Wolves 43-37, and overcame a deficit that was as large as seven points late in the first quarter. After a slow start to the evening, the ‘Jackets kicked things into gear and out-scored the Wolves 55-34 over the final three quarters. “Offensively, we had a nice balance of inside and outside scoring and I thought our transition offense was much better tonight,” Woodin said. “Taryn and Cariann (Kunkel) were very good and I thought we shared the ball well. We need to improve on our 3-point shooting as overall we weren’t very good at them this week.”

The Yellowjacket shot 41.8 percent overall (23-for-55), but made just 6 of 21 threes (28.6 percent). MSUB made trips to the free-throw line count, sinking 20 of 28 shots (71.4 percent). The Yellowjackets improved to 15-9 with the win, and are now 9-3 in conference play to stay tied for second place in the standings with Alaska Anchorage.

Western Oregon fell to 8-12 with the loss and the Wolves are now 4-9 in conference play. Princy Paaluhi-Caulk led the way for the visitors with 18 points, but was the only Wolf to reach double figures in scoring. Cali McClave had a team-best seven rebounds, while Tresai McCarver finished with eight points, six rebounds, and a pair of assists.

Kortney Nelson had 11 points, four rebounds, and four assists, and Cariann Kunkel finished with 11 points, six rebounds, and two steals to further bolster the ‘Jackets. Aspen Giese had a season-high five steals in 17 minutes off the bench as well. “Our depth played a key role,” Woodin said. “We were able to play a lot of people and I think our legs were fresher in the fourth quarter because of that.”

Gardner completed a key three-point play early on in the second quarter to give MSUB a 27-26 advantage, during a stretch in which the lead bounced back and forth a handful of times. A layup by Shelley sparked a 5-0 run by the ‘Jackets, and MSUB used the momentum to muscle their way to a 35-31 advantage at the halftime break.

Putting its foot on the gas coming out of the locker room, MSUB burst out to an 11-point lead over the first four minutes of the third quarter, and after limiting the Wolves to just eight points in the period never looked back.

MSUB limited its giveaways to 13 in the game, while balancing that with 13 assists and coming away with 10 steals. The Yellowjackets had nine second-chance points on 10 offensive rebounds, and received 15 points off the bench. “We started our three seniors tonight - Shannon, Taryn, and Addison – and our team was excited about that,” Woodin said. “They played very well together, especially in the third quarter and set the tone. They are awesome student-athletes and leaders and our program has benefitted from having them each here for four years. I am proud of Addison Gardner. She missed eight games and really worked hard to mentally and physically improve over that period. She had a great week for us and played well on both ends tonight.”

The Wolves shot just 24.6 percent in the game (15-for-61), while making 7 of 25 threes (28.0 percent) and 15 of 19 free throws (78.9 percent).

For the first time in nearly four decades, MSUB's men swept the season series with the Seattle Pacific Falcons with a 70-54 road win on Saturday afternoon.

In typical fashion, the Yellowjackets (11-11, 7-5 GNAC) out-rebounded the Falcons by a 39-28 margin, held SPU scoreless for an eight-minute stretch in the first half and held SPU to shooting a measly 36.8% from the floor.

“We really did a lot of things right today, but our defense and rebounding carried us,” MSUB head coach Mick Durham said. “We also had balanced scoring with four players in double figures. Seattle Pacific is a tough place to play and win, but our guys were up to the challenge and got us a good, late road win.”

For the second-straight game, Damen Thacker led the way for MSUB with 18 points, seven rebounds and three assists while playing all 40 minutes. Nicholas Sebastiao scored 12 of his 13 points on three pointers and added six rebound, while Carrington Wiggins and Bilal Shabazz finished with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Emmanuel Ajanaku had eight points, nine rebounds and a career-high four steals in the win.

The Falcons scored on their opening possession on a layup from Zach Paulsen. That would be all for them over the span of the next eight minutes.

MSUB quickly took an 11-2 lead off threes from Nicholas Sebastiao, Carrington Wiggins and Bilal Shabazz – plus a pair of free throws from Emmanuel Ajanaku. With 13:29 to go, Sebasitao’s second three made it a 16-2 ballgame. Meanwhile, Seattle Pacific missed 10 shots in a row before Divant’e Moffitt’s steal and ensuing transition layup snapped the Falcons’ scoreless streak at the 11:54 mark. Yet MSUB got a response from a three on the next possession from Brent Finn.

Seattle Pacific went on a 9-0 run to try getting back into the game, but Finn delivered once more with a basket to put MSUB up 21-13 near the midway point of the first half. Then the game see-sawed with baskets from Thacker, Malik Brikat and finally with a 6-0 run sparked by Thacker’s third field goal of the half. Leading 30-20 at the final media timeout, Thacker sank two free throws to make it a 13-point game, then SPU went on a 5-0 run to cut it to single digits, yet Sam Elliott’s three with 2:31 to go made it a 36-25 ballgame. The ‘Jackets would close the half on four-straight points from Wiggins to take a 42-28 lead at the break.

Unlike the previous half, both teams came out hot to start the second half. Although the Falcons scored on three of their first four possessions, MSUB countered with field goals from Shabazz, Thacker and Ajanaku.

The Falcons would cut into the Yellowjackets’ double-digit lead just once from that point onward. A three from Harry Cavell made it a 48-39 ballgame, but five-straight points from Sebastiao gave the Yellowjackets a 53-39 advantage with 15:54 to go. MSUB would take a 14-point lead on a jumper from Shabazz, then once again on Thacker’s three with 10:44 remaining to put the ‘Jackets up 62-48.

However, both teams fell into a rut for nearly five minutes. Aided by their double-digit cushion, the ‘Jackets relied on their defense, holding SPU to 0-for-7 shooting and forcing five turnovers in an 8 minute and 40 second stretch. Ajanku’s layup with 5:18 to go helped make the score 64-50, then Sebastiao made his lone two-pointer of the night with 3:30 left to push MSUB’s lead to 16. A free throw from Shabazz gave the ‘Jackets their largest lead, 69-52, with 1:33 remaining, then Thacker’s free throw with 11 seconds left put the finishing touches on the 70-54 win.