MSU Billings men eager to rebound at home Thursday

(MSUB Athletics release)

BILLINGS – After suffering a pair of losses last weekend, the Montana State University Billings men’s basketball team will return to the friendly home confines of Alterowitz Gymnasium looking to get back on track in games Thursday and Saturday night against Great Northwest Athletic Conference foes.

The Yellowjackets (7-5, 2-2 GNAC) are 7-1 at home this season and tip off against GNAC leading Western Oregon University (11-3, 4-1 GNAC) on Thursday January 10 at 7 p.m. followed by Concordia University (6-7, 1-4 GNAC) on Saturday, January 12 at 7 p.m. The Wolves are defending GNAC champions whereas the Cavaliers finished in last place a year ago but have shown signs of improvement in 2018-19.

“We tried to stress the concept that each game is a separate entity,” said MSUB head coach Mick Durham. “Whether we win or lose, it’s important to quickly move the focus to the next one. We have a couple very good programs coming in this week so we have to be ready.”

SCORING BATTLE: The ‘Jackets score 80.1 points per game and limit opponents to 78.2 points. MSUB scored over 100 points for the first time this season in a loss to Central Washington 111-102 on Saturday. Five players have averaged more than ten points per game including top scorers Zack Rollins and Tyler Green. The duo combined for 30 points against CWU.

Rollins leads the team at 15.6 ppg and 187 total points and Green is just a sliver behind at 15.5 ppg and 186 points. In addition, Green has won GNAC player of the week twice this season and Rollins has earned it once. Rollins and Green rank No. 5 and No. 6 respectively in scoring in the conference, trailing behind No. 1 Adonis Arms of Northwest Nazarene, who has averaged 21.2 ppg.

DOUBLE-DOUBLE: Melvin Newbern Jr. turned in his fourth double-double performance of the season against Northwest Nazarene Thursday with 18 points and 14 rebounds in 25 minutes on the floor. The transfer junior was equally impressive Saturday night but in a different fashion Saturday night against Central Washington. Newbern Jr. had 16 points and six rebounds and shot 8-for-8 from the field, choosing his shots wisely and spreading out his scoring over 29 minutes of playing time. His .611 field goal percentage this season ranks fifth in the GNAC.

“Melvin gives us a good presence inside and he’s been able to expand his range as well,” commented Durham. “He has rebounding ability that has really made a big difference for us. His versatility is important too. He played two years of junior college and grew up in the Minneapolis area so I think that experience has made him very capable at this level.”

AGAINST THE REST: MSU Billings ranks seventh among GNAC teams in scoring offense (80.1 ppg), eighth in scoring defense (78.1 points against per game), sixth in free throw percentage (.732), fifth in 3-point field goal percentage (.387), ninth in steals per game (6.5), and fourth in blocked shots (3.3 bpg). In 2018-19, the Yellowjackets relied more heavily on the 3-point shot. This season, the team has taken a more balanced approach. MSUB averages 9.2 made 3-pointers per game, down from 10.3 last season. The ‘Jackets efficiency from beyond the arc however is similar (.360 versus .370 a year ago).

OVERTIME IN ELLENSBURG: Saturday night the Yellowjackets lost in overtime 111-102 to Central Washington. After a heroic 3-pointer tied the game for the Wildcats, the Yellowjackets found themselves in their first overtime game this season. The extra session began positively with a Green triple on the Yellowjackets’ first possession. Then the game turned in CWU’s favor with 1 minute 20 seconds to play. Zellie Hudson stole the ball from Green just past midcourt and dunked it on the other end, giving the Wildcats a three point lead.

The ‘Jackets attempted 3-pointers on their next two possessions but failed to connect. The loss dropped MSUB to 2-2 in the GNAC and they remain winless in the conference on the road. The road woes will need to wane after this weekend if they hope to stay in the top six, as MSUB is scheduled to play nine of its’ final 15 games away from home.

COMING OFF THE BENCH: The Yellowjackets have received contributions outside of their starting five on a frequent basis so far. Brendan Howard averages 22.1 minutes per game, scoring 13.1 points per game. Seth Christiaens has made his mark with blocks, rebounds, and dunks for MSUB and plays an average of 7.1 minutes. Hafeez Abdul appeared in just his fourth game of the season Thursday night but was effective with 10 points in 15 minutes on the court.

“We are always trying to develop the bench,” Durham said. “We got good minutes last weekend from Hafeez Abdul and Seth Christiaens and Brendan has been our most consistent sixth man this season. We continue to use 10 guys every night and hopefully they will keep contributing so the starters can get the rest they need because it is critical to have them stay fresh late in games.”

Sophomore guard Kobe Terashima and freshman guard Beijan Newbern have also played all 12 games for the Yellowjackets coming off the bench.

Scouting Western Oregon University
Game Day: Thursday, January 10 – 7 p.m.
2018-19 Record: 10-3, 3-1 GNAC, 6-0 home, 2-2 away, 2-1 neutral
Head Coach: Jim Shaw (4th season)
2017-18 Record: 31-2, 19-1 GNAC, 16-1 home, 11-1 away, 4-0 neutral

Western Oregon fell in the NCAA Division II national championship last season and beat Concordia Tuesday to reclaim the top position in this year’s GNAC standings. The Wolves also have GNAC wins over Simon Fraser, No. 15 Western Washington, and Alaska Fairbanks. They returned six players to the hardwood this season, including four who saw time in the rotation on last year’s dominant run. After losing three starters, Western Oregon was projected to finish third in the GNAC preseason coaches poll but they have proven to be an early favorite to win the conference for a second straight year.

“I think in order to be successful against a good team like Western Oregon, we have to be solid on both ends,” said Durham. “We have to make sure we are efficient on offense because we know they can cause some problems with their pressure. Offensively, they put a lot of pressure on because they can penetrate but at the same time, we know they can shoot threes also. We have to make them earn points for 40 minutes and then try to get the best shots we can on offense and find space in the open court if we can.”

Junior Riley Hawken logged 780 minutes for WOU last year and averaged 8.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Hawkins has improved his numbers early this season with 13.3 points per game and 6.9 rebounds per game. He is the only player on the roster to start all 13 games in 2018-19. Hawken has been an efficient shooter, making nearly 50-percent from the field (.492). He has also gone 25-for-67 from beyond the arc (.373) for the Wolves.

Hawken is joined most of the time in the starting lineup by sophomore guard Darius Lubom (10.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 25.2 minutes), senior forward Kaleb Warner (10.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 19 minutes), senior guard Brandell Evans (6.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 24.8 minutes), and freshman forward Etan Collins (6.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 17.5 minutes).

Freshman Cameron Cranston came off the bench for 23 points in a recent game against Alaska Fairbanks and junior Jaylyn Richardson also finished with 20.

The Wolves average 80.0 points per game (eighth) and have a stifling defense that has held opposing teams to just 63.9 points per game (first). Most of the damage on offense has come from inside as the Wolves rank last in the GNAC for 3-point percentage at .339.

Hawken ranks 14th in the GNAC in points per game, sixth in rebounding (6.9 rpg), and second in steals (2.0 spg). The Yellowjackets are 11-16 all-time against Western Oregon and have lost each of the last four matchups and nine of the last 10. However, MSUB is 8-5 at home against the Wolves historically.

Last season, the Yellowjackets lost 92-68 on the road and 71-60 at home to the No. 4 ranked Wolves. Rollins scored 20 points on 8-for-22 shooting in the latter. Hawken had 14 points in the win for WOU.

Scouting Concordia University
Game Day: Saturday, January 12 – 7 p.m.
2018-19 Record: 6-6, 1-3 GNAC, 2-4 home, 2-2 away, 2-0 neutral
Head Coach: Brad Barbarick (25th season)
2017-18 Record: 5-23, 1-19 GNAC, 3-11 home, 0-12 away, 2-0 neutral

The Cavaliers are in the midst of a four game road trip which finishes Saturday night in Billings. CU was soundly defeated Tuesday night by Western Oregon 91-65. In the game, the Cavaliers shot 46-percent and were led offensively by a 15 point night by junior guard Elroi Butler.

Last year, senior guard Jarrett Gray led Concordia with 16.3 points per game and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 42-percent from the field and 36-percent from beyond the arc. Gray has been just off his 2018-19 pace but still leads the team with 14.5 ppg in 13 starts this season. Sophomore guard Hunter Sweet is likely to factor in Saturday night’s game as well. The Beaverton, Oregon native is averaging 10.6 points and 3.8 rebounds playing 21 minutes per game for the Cavs.

“They are somewhat new and rely on their guards in the backcourt,” Durham said of Concordia. “They have Gray back who was all-conference last year. They are new inside but have been very solid defensively in the GNAC. They had a big comeback against Alaska Fairbanks last week so we know that they won’t go away. If we get in a position to put them away, we have to make sure we do it because they’re a team that never gives up.”

Other expected starters are junior forward Dakota Ayala (5.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg), senior guard Jace Cates (7.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg) and junior guard Dom Bradley (9.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg).

The Cavaliers rank ninth in scoring offense (75.8 ppg), sixth in defense (76.0 points against), fifth in free throw percentage (.738), 10th in 3-point percentage (.344), and seventh in steals (7.1 spg).

The Yellowjackets lead the all-time series with Concordia 5-2 with MSUB winning both games last year. The ‘Jackets won 83-70 in Portland on January 4, then 80-79 in Billings on February 3.

AROUND THE GNAC: Saint Martin’s University became the last team to suffer a conference defeat with a loss to Western Washington last weekend. Western Oregon took over the top spot in the GNAC with a win over Concordia on Tuesday. The Wolves (11-3, 4-1) are just ahead of Saint Martin’s (10-2, 3-1), Northwest Nazarene (8-2, 3-1), and Seattle Pacific (6-3, 3-1) with the rest of the conference all within striking distance of the top six.

“It seems like everybody is putting up 80 points a game in the GNAC this year so no one has been able to lock it down defensively yet,” Durham quipped. “Teams are fast around the perimeter but we are trying to improve defensively. It’s a challenge but we know that we have to play good defense in order to have a chance to win every night.”

HOW TO WATCH: Those unable to attend in person are encouraged to follow both games this weekend through MSUB’s stretch Internet Portal, where the game will be streamed and live statistics will be available.

Scott Breen

Scott Breen

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