MSU Billings women earn tough road win at Saint Martin’s

(Photo courtesy MSU Billings)

(MSU Billings release)

LACEY, Wash. – A strong start and a strong finish were the ingredients to an important road victory by the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team Saturday night, as the Yellowjackets topped Saint Martin’s University 76-69 in Great Northwest Athletic Conference play at Marcus Pavilion.

MSUB got off to a 21-12 lead after 10 minutes, and out-scored the Saints 22-18 in the fourth quarter to bookend the win with solid play. “This was a great win for us,” commented MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “Our team came to play and I felt we competed and fought hard for four quarters. Our defense was very good all night. We made their key players work hard for their shots, and I thought our focus was very good.”

Hannah Collins led her team with 18 points, while playing a career-high 38 minutes including all 20 in the first half. Freshman Taryn Shelley completed her fifth double-double of the year with 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Vanessa Stavish was a major contributor with 17 points and seven rebounds in just 19 minutes.

With the game on the line, MSUB put the ball in the hands of its most effective scorers as Collins and Shelley combined for 12 straight points over a stretch of 3:22 late in the fourth quarter. A three by Collins with MSUB down 61-60 at the 3:29 mark jump-started the rally, and the Yellowjackets never trailed the rest of the night.

Stavish iced the game with four straight foul shots, on a night where she was a perfect 8-for-8 from the line to establish a career high. “Our team showed a lot of grit tonight as SMU took the lead in the fourth quarter, but we responded and had some nice possessions on both ends,” Woodin said. “Taryn was effective late inside on offense, and Vanessa and Hannah were clutch at the free-throw line. Jeanann (Lemelin) had a huge steal late and played some great defense for us. I liked how aggressive we were on offense, and we really needed this win.”

The ‘Jackets moved to 9-9 overall on the year and are now 5-7 in conference play among a cluster of five teams fighting for positioning in the middle of the standings.

The Saints fell to 5-17 overall, and are now 3-9 in league play to sit in 10th place. Reigning GNAC Freshman of the Year Saniah Simpson-Patu led all players with 20 points, while Bria Thames and Claire Dingus each had double-doubles. Thames made 6 of 10 shots from the floor for 15 points, and added a game-high 14 rebounds. Despite being held scoreless in the opening half, Dingus came alive to finish with 10 points and 13 boards as she continued to build on her stellar freshman campaign.

Stavish and Taylor Edwards connected on back-to-back threes fresh off the bench, helping the ‘Jackets to a 13-6 lead early in the opening quarter. Another jumper by Edwards midway through the second gave MSUB its largest advantage at 33-22, and the ‘Jackets finished the half well to lead 38-29 at the break.

The Saints made just 2 of 9 threes in the opening 20 minutes, and shot 35.7 percent from the field overall. Momentum began to shift early in the third quarter however, as the Saints put together a 10-2 run. A three by Simpson-Patu got the Saints as close as they had been since the opening quarter, as she pushed Woodin to call a timeout with the score at 40-39.

SMU’s breakthrough came early in the fourth quarter, when a layup by Megan Nilsson gave her team its first lead since the opening possession of the night. While Shelley and Collins did the majority of the scoring during the game-defining stretch, Taylor Cunningham had three of her four assists on the night during the vital fourth-quarter run.

MSUB shot 38.0 percent in the game (27-for-71), and had another tough night from 3-point range at 31.3 percent (5-for-16). Two nights after making 19 of 20 shots from the foul line, the ‘Jackets were again rewarded for free-throw accuracy to the tune of 17-for-22 (77.3 percent).

The Saints meanwhile made 26 of 59 shots (44.1 percent), and also had a rough go from downtown at 3-for-13 (23.1 percent). MSUB won despite being out-rebounded 46-33, but had a solid 13 offensive rebounds which led to 11 second-chance points. A season-low seven turnovers also played into the Yellowjackets’ hands, while they created 19 giveaways by the Saints for their second-best single-game margin of the year at plus-12.

THE BUZZ: Collins was picked as the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…MSUB is now 29-11 all-time against SMU and is 13-9 in road games…Stavish’s previous career high in free throws was six, which she achieved on December 18, 2018 against Maryville…Shelley’s five double-doubles this year are tied for the third most in the league.

AHEAD: MSUB returns home next week, hosting the University of Alaska next Thursday and the University of Alaska Anchorage next Saturday.

Casey Conlon

Casey Conlon

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