Nanooks Oust Yellowjackets in Men's GNAC Opener
Play Video MSUB senior Kalob Hatcher (center) fights for possession against UAF's Joe Slocum (20) and Ronnie Baker (Photo by Dan Levine).
MSUB senior Kalob Hatcher (center) fights for possession against UAF's Joe Slocum (20) and Ronnie Baker (Photo by Dan Levine).

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

LACEY, Wash. – Alaska Fairbanks led from virtually the start but wasn’t able to pull away until the final five minutes in defeating Montana State Billings 69-59 Wednesday in the opening game of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Championships at Marcus Pavilion on the campus of Saint Martin's University.

The third-seeded Nanooks (18-9) now advance to Thursday’s 5:15 p.m. semifinal game against second-seed Western Washington (19-7).

UAF, which led early in the first half by 10 points (16-6), was clinging to a two-point lead (56-54) before Andrew Kelly started a 7-0 run with a pair of free throws with 3:49 left.

The Nanooks then converted back-to-back turnovers into a layup by Joe Slocum and a three-pointer by Stefan Tica to go ahead 63-54 with 2:41 left.  UAF eventually stretched its lead to 12 points at 69-57 on two foul shots by Kelly with 29 seconds left  before MSUB’s Austin Hudson scored the final bucket of the game.

Slocum, who came into the game as only the fifth-leading scorer on his team averaging 10.4 points, finished the contest with a game-high 15 points connecting on 6-of-10 shots.  He also had four steals and tied teammate Ronnie Baker for the most steals with three as UAF forced MSUB into 15 turnovers. 

The Nanooks also got 14 points by Kelly, 13 from Tica and 12 from Sergej Pucar in reaching the conference semifinals for the second year in a row.  Kelly, who ranks 12th nationally in Division II in field goal percentage, made 5-of-6.

Hudson led MSUB, which finished its season with a 12-15 record, with 14 points and nine rebounds.

MSUB’s Jonathan Mesghna netted 13 points, while point guard Kalob Hatcher had 12 points and a game-high eight assists.  Devon Wallace finished with 11 points.

UAF trailed twice (at 2-0 and 4-2) before going on a 9-0 run to go ahead 16-6.  MSUB did close the gap to four (27-23) at halftime, but the Nanooks rebuilt their lead to nine at 37-28 early in the second period.  MSUB, however, then used an 8-0 run to tie the game at 49-49 with 8:13 left on a basket by Chase Miller.

Fairbanks, however, then took the lead for good at 52-49 on a three-pointer by Mike Stepovich with 6:13 remaining.