‘Jacket Men Stumped By Chico 78-64 In Regional Opener
Famous Lefthand led MSUB with 17 points in Friday's opening-round loss to Chico State.
Famous Lefthand led MSUB with 17 points in Friday's opening-round loss to Chico State.

Friday, March 15, 2024
by Evan O'Kelly, Assistant Commissioner For Communications

LOS ANGELES – Chico State pulled away from Montana State Billings in the second half of Friday’s NCAA West Region Championships opening game, as the Yellowjacket men’s basketball team ended its historic 2023-24 season with a 78-64 defeat inside University Gym.

After spending much of the first half coming from behind, MSUB got over the hump and nudged ahead 34-33 less than two minutes into the second half. Chico State regained the lead on the ensuing possession however, and never trailed as it out-scored MSUB 47-32 over the final 20 minutes of the game.

Famous Lefthand led the Yellowjackets in scoring with 17 points, while adding five rebounds, a pair of assists and a blocked shot in 37 minutes on the floor. GNAC Player of the Year Jalen Tot was limited to 12 points on 4-for-13 field-goal accuracy, including a mark of 0-for-6 from long range. Emmanuel Ajanaku added a dozen points and GNAC Defensive Player of the Year Steven Richardson chipped in 11 for the Yellowjackets, who finished their season with a 20-10 record.

Chico State (21-8) advanced to the second round of the regional tournament where it will face the winner of Alaska Anchorage vs. Cal State San Bernardino (2:30 p.m. Pacific). The Wildcats used a 10-3 run after momentarily falling behind to build a lead that they’d never relinquish in the opening-round victory. Five Wildcats reached double figures in scoring, with Kelvin Wright Jr. leading the way with a 16-point, 13-rebound double-double. Miles Daniels had 15 points and seven rebounds and Jojo Murphy scored 14 points and added six assists. Adam Afifi and Joshua Hamilton contributed a dozen points apiece for Chico State, with the latter leading all players with eight assists.

MSUB was hampered by a 33.9% shooting afternoon (21-for-62), while the Wildcats shot a much sturdier 41.5% (27-for-65). Chico State also owned a 45-38 edge in rebounding and limited its turnovers to eight while the Yellowjackets coughed up 13 giveaways. Afifi had a season-high four blocks to go along with eight rebounds to Chico State win both of those statistical categories.

The Yellowjackets held a slight edge in 3-point shooting at 36.4% (8-for-22)-30.4% (7-for-23), while the Wildcats made 16 of 23 free throws (69.9%) compared to the Yellowjackets’ line of 14 of 23 (60.9%). MSUB came up short in the opening round of the NCAA tournament for the second straight season, after falling to Cal State San Bernardino 63-57 in last year’s tournament. First-year head coach Luke Fennelly was named GNAC Coach of the Year, after leading the Yellowjackets to a 14-4 league record to capture their first-ever GNAC regular-season title.

GAME NOTES: MSUB is now 9-3 all-time against Chico State and is 0-2 in neutral-site meetings…Friday was the second NCAA meeting between the teams, with MSUB winning 54-49 on March 7, 1981 the last time the two met in the postseason…Friday was the teams’ first encounter since a 92-66 Chico State win on Nov. 13, 2015 in Hayward, Calif.