Jacket men ready for GNAC tourney

2014-03-04T19:15:00Z 2014-03-05T00:14:06Z Jacket men ready for GNAC tourneyBy JOE KUSEK jkusek@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

During a two-week span in February, the Montana State Billings men’s basketball team proved it can win against the top teams in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.

The Yellowjackets reeled off wins against Alaska Anchorage, Western Washington, Simon Fraser and Seattle Pacific.

Now MSUB will have to do it in three days.

Seattle Pacific, Western Washington and Alaska Anchorage are the Nos. 1, 2 and 4 seeds in this week’s GNAC Tournament in Lacey, Wash.

Sixth-seeded MSUB (12-14) opens the tournament on Wednesday at 1 p.m. against No. 3 seed Alaska Fairbanks.

The winner will play Western Washington on Thursday.

The winner of the GNAC Tournament receives an automatic berth into the NCAA Division II West Region.

“We’re a team, all season long, that has played to the level of the competition,” said MSUB coach Jamie Stevens. “There is a reason we’ve had so many close and overtime games this year. We’re looking at every game being a battle to the end.

“I expect the games to go down to the last five minutes and one team will make plays those last five minutes to win the game.”

The Nanooks, coached by Mick Durham, swept the Yellowjackets during the regular season, 79-70 and 88-74.

MSUB is led in scoring by senior Jonathan Mesghna, who is averaging 15.2 points per game. Junior center Austin Hudson is averaging 14.3 points and a team-best 7.3 rebounds. He has eight double-doubles this year.

Mesghna was chosen the GNAC Newcomer of the Year. He and Hudson earned honorable mention all-GNAC honors.

Senior point guard Kalob Hatcher, an all-GNAC selection, is averaging 12.5 points and ranks among the top six nationally at 7.6 assists per game. He has posted seven double-figure assist games this season, including five in the last six.

The 7.6 assists per game ranks him fifth all-time for a single season at MSUB. His 200 assists rank seventh all-time for a single-season. He needs just seven more to pass his coach on the list.

“Kalob Hatcher, all year long, has been our MVP,” said Stevens. “He has been a steady influence on the court … he’s a guy who makes his teammates better. Kalob has become an extension of the coaching staff on the court.”

The Yellowjackets will be without redshirt freshman Marc Matthews, who suffered a broken foot in last week’s game at Northwest Nazarene. The guard is averaging 7.6 points per game, with 10 double-figure scoring games this season.

“With Marc in our starting lineup, we went to a smaller offense and it just took off,” Stevens said. “But everybody has injuries this time of year. We have guys who are next in line who can step up and play.

“You want to be playing your best basketball now. That’s what March basketball is all about.”

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