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Offense shines in season-opening victory

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BILLINGS, Mont. – Five Montana State University Billings men’s basketball players reached double figures in scoring Saturday afternoon at Alterowitz Gym, as the Yellowjackets out-raced visiting Yellowstone Christian College 92-84 in a season-opening exhibition contest.

Brendan Howard led all players with 29 points, making 10 of 17 shots overall and 4 of 6 threes while adding seven rebounds to help lift his team to victory. Making his Yellowjacket debut, Jimmy Brown was highly effective in 23 minutes off the bench with a dozen points and nine rebounds. “I was a little nervous throughout the day, had a few pre-game jitters, but it was good to get back out on the court and get going,” Brown said after the game.

“It was great, and we appreciate MSUB and everyone allowing us to play tonight,” head coach Mick Durham said on his team’s first game since last February. “The way we have to play right now is weird with no fans, and it is totally different. But once you start, it feels like a real game.”

The Yellowjackets dealt with a Centurion team that shot a red-hot 53.6 percent from 3-point range in the game, as they converted 15 of 28 attempts from the arc. MSUB kept pace with a steady 46.4 percent from long range (13-for-28), and shot 46.6 percent overall in the game (34-for-73). “You’ve got to try to run them off the three as much as you can, and you just have to rebound and hope the ball comes your way,” said Brown on trying to neutralize the hot-shooting Centurions. “All the guys are new together, so it was good to get out there and see what everyone is able to do in a real game setting.”

“They do a nice job, and that was great competition for us,” Durham said on YCC. “Their guards are really talented, and we talked about how the 3-point line got away from us a little bit today. I knew Jimmy was going to be pretty valuable for us because he brings experience and physicality. He definitely was (valuable) tonight.”

True freshman Nicholas Sebastiao contributed 15 points including three 3-pointers, Carrington Wiggins added a dozen points and five rebounds, and Chrishon Dixon finished with 10 points and a game-high eight assists for the ‘Jackets. “Carrington – one of our best shooters – had a tough first half but then came back and hit a couple big shots for us,” said Durham. “I thought Nick Sebastiao gave some really good minutes in his first game.”

Derrian Reed led the Centurions with 23 points, while Devin Jones had 22 points on a stellar 6-for-9 mark from 3-point range. Christian Beeke added 16 points and matched Jones for the team lead with seven rebounds in 19 strong minutes in the paint.

The crucial point in the game came during the opening five minutes of the second half, when the Centurions went on a run to turn a 39-34 deficit into a 53-47 lead at the 15:04 mark. Beeke scored 10 points during that five-minute span, engaging in a hard-nosed matchup with Brown under the basket. The Yellowjacket big man responded with effective play of his own, dishing out an assist on a key three by Dixon before scoring four quick points that lifted the Yellowjackets back into the lead 56-55. After Brown’s big effort, MSUB never trailed the rest of the game. “It was good being able to go shot-for-shot with him pretty much,” Brown said when asked about the key battle against Beeke. “We were just in there battling and getting physical. We came out of that timeout ready to rally and firing.”

Another three by Dixon and a layup by Sebastiao helped MSUB sustain an eight-point advantage as the clock wound below seven minutes to play, but the Centurions continued to fight back and used the long-range shot to stay in the game. Four quick points by Devante King cut it to a two-possession game at 74-70.

Howard however added a final touch to his masterful performance, knocking down back-to-back threes that revitalized a double-figure advantage for MSUB with just 4:03 left on the clock. The ‘Jackets finished the game strongly after that, seeing their lead peak at 14 points with 1:45 to go after a fast-break layup from Wiggins. “We ran into a little adversity there in the first game, but we came back and finished strong,” Durham said. “We saw a lot of good things, and obviously we have a lot to work on.”

MSUB protected the ball well with just eight giveaways on the game, while Yellowstone Christian committed 15 turnovers which led directly to 18 Yellowjacket points. MSUB also enjoyed a narrow 36-34 advantage in rebounding, including a dozen offensive boards which led to 18 second-chance points.

THE BUZZ: Howard was picked as the St. Vincent Healthcare Player of the Game…Emmanuel AjanakuBrent FinnTyler NearyGrant Tully, and Anders Epperly each also made their debut as Yellowjackets in the game.

NEXT UP: MSUB plays at crosstown rival Rocky Mountain College next Wednesday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. in the exhibition affair at the Fortin Center, and it will be the second game in a doubleheader along with the Yellowjacket women’s team. Live coverage links will be available online at www.msubsports.com.

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