MSU Billings' Zharon Richmond

Zharon Richmond of Montana State Billings puts down a dunk in the first half against Rocky Mountain College on Wednesday night at the Fortin Center.

BRONTE WITTPENN, Gazette staff

BILLINGS — Early in the first half against Rocky Mountain College, Zharon Richmond took a pass on the right side.

Without pause, he powered to the basket to deliver a strong one-handed dunk.

Yeah, this freshman can play.

Richmond, a graduate of Billings Skyview, finished with nine points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots in his first collegiate game for Montana State Billings.

He also made a crucial reverse layin late in the game to help the Yellowjackets hold off the Battlin’ Bears 82-75 on Wednesday night at the Fortin Center.

“A lot of people are going to know Zharon from his days at Skyview, but ever since he got here we’ve felt that people in Billings are going to be hearing a lot of his name,” said MSUB coach Jamie Stevens. “They’re going to see him play and go, ‘Whoa.’

“Obviously, he had a great high school career but his ceiling is incredibly high and he is going to be a tremendous college basketball player.”

Richmond wasn’t the only freshman of impact for the new-look Yellowjackets.

David Simental, a guard from Pueblo West, Colorado, came off the bench to toss in 14 points in 21 minutes, including a pair of 3-pointers.

Richmond and Simental are two of seven new players on the MSUB roster this season. Rocky had six new players in the game.

The Yellowjacket newcomers also include 6-6 guard/forward Zack Rollins.

Rollins, a junior from Pelham, New York, was steered toward Stevens by an AAU coach. 

After a slow first half — he had one 3-pointer — the versatile Rollins finished with 15 points.

And Stevens expects more highlights to come.

“When we were up at half (44-35) and knew that Zack hadn’t been in there for us, we felt pretty good,” said Stevens of the game. “If you watch him you can tell he is a big-time talent. I would put him up there with Antoine Proctor and Jarell Crayton in terms of the talent he has and what he is able to do. In the second half, he really showed that he is capable of playing the way we need him to.”

Exhibition? No.

While the game was an exhibition for both teams, the intensity on the court said otherwise.

“Don’t tell them it was an exhibition,” said Rocky coach Bill Dreikosen motioning to the Battlin’ Bears locker room. “That’s not why you play, that’s not why you coach. You play to get better for the next game.”

Stevens agreed.

“The teams don’t approach this as an exhibition,” he said. “We know each other and we know we’re always going to get their best shot. We treat this as a regular season game and now we get to build off of this. We see our schedule as 32 games. We have 31 more to go so we’ve got to keep working.”

Happy returns

In her first game in 362 days, Alisha Breen scored a game-high 31 points in MSUB’s 80-75 exhibition win over Montana Western on Wednesday night at Alterowitz.

The standout from Choteau was not the only Yellowjacket making a return to the court.

Taylor Edwards, Vanessa Stavish and Rachel Koehler also are beginning comeback seasons.

Edwards, of Great Falls, played her first game since a season-ending injury on Jan. 7, while Stavish played for the first time since the 2015-16 season. Stavish redshirted last season to be home with her mother, who eventually lost her battle with cancer.

Returning to the starting lineup, the junior forward from Frenchtown finished with nine points in 19 minutes, while Edwards was scoreless in 10 minutes of playing time.

Koehler, who had not played since the 2014-15 season, made up for lost time with 10 points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes. The former Billings Senior star started her college basketball career at Cal Poly.

In her first two minutes as a Yellowjacket, she had a steal and fast-break layup, grabbed an offense rebound that led to a 3-pointer and finished with a layup.

Email Joe Kusek at joe.kusek@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJoe

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