Yellowjacket Men Named GNAC Team of the Week
MSUB senior point guard Kalob Hatcher (left) is leading the GNAC with 7.6 assists per game and had 24 in last weekend's victories.
MSUB senior point guard Kalob Hatcher (left) is leading the GNAC with 7.6 assists per game and had 24 in last weekend's victories.

Monday, February 17, 2014
by Evan O'Kelly, Media Relations Assistant

PORTLAND, Ore. – It’s no secret that the Montana State Billings men’s basketball team has fared well on the road this season, but until last weekend it was difficulty on their home court of Alterowitz Gym that had bogged down the Yellowjackets.

MSUB’s hopes of earning a berth in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championships were restored on Thursday, as the ‘Jackets stunned visiting Western Washington in a 102-101 overtime thriller that snapped a 5-game losing skid and kept MSUB in the postseason conversation. The Yellowjackets followed with a solid 95-82 win over Simon Fraser on Saturday, pushing the team’s home record above .500 on the season (8-7) and earning MSUB GNAC Team of the Week honors.

“We told the guys that we probably needed to go 4-1 at the worst in order to make the playoffs,” MSUB head coach Jamie Stevens commented on his staff’s message to the team entering last week’s games. “We talked about wanting to send the seniors out the right way in their last home games.”

MSUB did just that, as its core of upperclassmen rose to the task last weekend and kept the team’s season alive. Against WWU on Thursday, junior Austin Hudson unleashed with a game-high 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to make it a double-double. “Our team goes as Austin goes, and if he stays out of foul trouble we feel like we can beat anybody in the conference,” Stevens said about the team’s second-leading scorer and top rebounder. “He is a nice inside presence for us, and any time we can get him high percentage shots that helps open things up for other players as well.”

Senior forward Jonathan Mesghna is one of those other players, as he complemented Hudson with 18 points and five rebounds on Thursday before erupting for 29 points in the Yellowjackets’ win over SFU on Saturday. “Jon has been a stud for us all year,” Stevens said. “He had been over on the left wing and now we have moved him to the four spot, and I was glad to see that he played his best game of the year for us on Saturday night.”

Redshirt freshman Marc Matthews played a key role on Saturday with 11 points, and has allowed Mesghna to make the shift in position smoothly. “We have inserted Marc into the lineup and he has done a nice job offensively for us,” Stevens said about the team’s improved play with Matthews on the floor. “He is a young guy who has stepped up and allowed us to move Mesghna into a better spot.”

While Hudson and Mesghna have handled the bulk of the scoring duties for MSUB this season, the Yellowjackets’ point guard Kalob Hatcher has acted as the glue that holds the team together. “Kalob is our MVP, and his assit-to-turnover ratio numbers are mind-boggling,” Stevens said regarding Hatcher’s GNAC-leading average of 7.6 assists per game. “He makes his teammates better and can effect the game without scoring. He is going to be tough to replace.”

Hatcher also converted 26-of-29 free-throws last weekend, contributing to his 43 total points. The senior leads the GNAC in total assists as well with 175, two-dozen of which came in last weekend’s victories. 

Devon Wallace, another senior starter for MSUB, was another leading scorer against WWU on Thursday with 15 points in 38 minutes on the hardwood. 

The Yellowjackets are no strangers to overtime this season, as previous experience in extra time aided MSUB on Thursday night. “We had already lost two 2-overtime games this season at Western Oregon and Seattle Pacific,” Stevens said regarding Saturday’s venture into the bonus period. “We felt like we should have won in regulation but (WWU’s) Richard Woodworth made a great play to send the game to OT.”

The previous overtime collapses did not appear to negatively influence MSUB on Thursday however, as the ‘Jackets got ahead early and held on for the win. “Mesghna hit a huge three to start overtime and that was big because it handed us the lead,” said Stevens. “That was a huge one because it relaxed the guys and gave them some confidence.”

While defeating WWU was a triumph in itself, the Yellowjackets understood the must-win mentality they needed to embrace and were not complacent heading into Saturday’s game against SFU. “We talked right after the WWU game and said first thing that the focus now goes to Saturday against SFU,” Stevens said about the lack of celebration after the win over the Vikings. “We knew the game against SFU was going to be close, but we just told them not to panic, to keep fighting, and the guys responded well in the second half with a big run to help us get in front.”

With three games remaining on MSUB’s conference schedule, the ‘Jackets are staring down two big road trips to close the 2013-14 regular season. Luckily for Stevens, his team carries momentum and a strong road history into this weekend’s game against Seattle Pacific and next week’s matchups with Northwest Nazarene and Central Washington. “The guys are accustomed to the travel and we feel like we have played better on the road so far this season,” Stevens said. “We are happy to be in the position we are in now compared to where we were last week, and we are looking forward to this new life and having a great week of practice.”