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Men’s basketball opens season Saturday afternoon



BILLINGS, Mont. – Men’s basketball returns to Alterowitz Gym on Saturday afternoon, as Montana State University Billings will open its abbreviated 2020-21 season against Yellowstone Christian College.

Saturday’s exhibition game will tip off at 2 p.m., with live video coverage available online through the MSUB Sports YouTube channel and live statistics available online here. Per Great Northwest Athletic Conference mandate, no fans are allowed at MSUB home basketball games during the spring of 2021.

“We need to play a few (games) just to break things up more than anything,” said third-year head coach Mick Durham. “We have about a dozen practices under our belts, but it will be good for them to play so we can see where we are at.”

The contest will be the first of two between the Yellowjackets and Centurions, who will return to Alterowitz Gym on Feb. 27 for a rematch. MSUB is also slated to play at Rocky Mountain College on Feb. 10 before hosting the crosstown rival Battlin’ Bears on Feb. 17.

“We had to work on mental toughness, being strong defensively, and keeping our bodies right,” junior forward Brendan Howard commented on the long wait before the team’s first games. “Our coaches made practice competitive enough for us even though there were no games. We have been treating it like any regular season for the most part practice wise.”

Coming off his second straight all-conference performance in 2019-20, Howard is the Yellowjackets’ top returning player after leading the team and ranking second in the conference with 20.3 points per game. Howard also ranked in the top-10 in the league in rebounding with 7.1 boards per game, and he shot an effective 50.5 percent overall from the floor. “I just want to get better each and every day and help our team get better,” Howard said when asked about his goals for the 2021 season. “Hopefully we will come out of these four games with four wins, that’s all we can really ask for.”

MSUB’s other returning starter is sophomore guard Chrishon Dixon, who played in all 28 games as a true freshman and ranked second on the team with 3.3 assists per game. Dixon also chipped in 6.6 points per game and grabbed 3.8 rebounds per game.

Clarence Daniels is another sophomore on the MSUB roster ready to hit the ground running, after playing in all 28 games and starting five in his collegiate debut a year ago. In 14.7 minutes per game, Daniels scored 4.5 points and added 3.2 rebounds.

Redshirt sophomore Sam Elliott is the other player on MSUB’s current roster who returns with experience, after seeing time in 14 games in his first collegiate season on the court. Anders Epperly is another returner for the ‘Jackets, who is set to make his collegiate debut after redshirting as a freshman in 2019-20.

“Those are the kind of guys who have been here and who we will lean on,” Durham commented on the team’s cast of returners. “Brendan definitely highlights the group with his experience, along with Chrishon.”

Among the team’s newcomers is senior guard Brent Finn, who provides the ‘Jackets with an experienced veteran after transferring from NCAA DI Montana State. Junior-college transfer Carrington Wiggins supplies the ‘Jackets with depth at the guard position, while the presence of the 6-foot-9 Jimmy Brown will bolster MSUB’s post play under the basket. Wiggins was an all-conference selection in his two seasons at Mott Community College, while Brown averaged 8.0 points and 5.0 rebounds during his career at Chandler Gilbert Community College.

MSUB’s roster also features a quartet of freshmen, who will each vie for playing time throughout the spring. Emmanuel Ajanaku, a native of Ondo, Nigeria, and Tyler Neary of Gillette, Wyoming, each redshirted last season at Gillette College. Ajanaku is a 6-foot-10 center who figures to be a key presence for the Yellowjackets throughout his career.

True freshmen Grant Tully of Edina, Minnesota, and Nicholas Sebastiao of Scottsburg, Indiana give the Yellowjackets two more promising players who can both help to spread the floor. Tully at 6-foot-6 and Sebastiao at 6-foot-5 are projected to see reps at multiple positions. “For the most part everyone is starting to fit in,” Howard said regarding the team’s new faces. “In the beginning you always have growing pains, especially with a new, young team like we have this year. But everyone is buying into what we are trying to do here defensively, and we are finally starting to get the hang of it offensively.”

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