LACEY, Wash. – Alaska Fairbanks answered every Montana State Billings challenge, turning back the Yellowjackets 69-59 Wednesday afternoon in the first round of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Tournament.
It is the second year in a row the Nanooks (18-9) defeated the Yellowjackets (12-15) in the first day of the tournament on the campus of Saint Martin’s University.
Third-seeded UAF will play No. 2 seed Western Washington on Thursday in one semifinal.
In the other first round game, Western Oregon defeated Alaska Anchorage 94-88. The Wolves will play top-sseded Seattle Pacific in the semifinals.
MSUB came into the tournament as the No. 6 seed. The Yellowjackets dropped their final three games of the season.
“Fairbanks is a really good team,” said MSUB coach Jamie Stevens. “They have six seniors this year. And at this time of year, it’s hard to beat a team with six seniors. They’re playing for their college careers.”
The Nanooks won all three meetings this season.
MSUB’s Chase Miller’s jumper tied the game 49-49 with 8:13 remaining and UAF countered with five straight points. Two free throws by Austin Hudson got the Yellowjackets within 56-54 with 4:04 to play but could get no closer.
“At that point, Fairbanks made some plays and we didn’t,” Stevens said. “We had a couple of turnovers and they hit a couple of big shots and that was it.
“We knew it was going to be close and in the last four minutes one of the teams was going to make winning plays. Alaska was the team that made those plays today.”
The Nanooks put four players in double figures, led by Joe Slocum’s 15 points. Andrew Kelly added 14, while Stefan Tica had 13 and Sergej Pucar 12.
UAF led 27-23 at halftime and scored 23 points off Yellowjacket turnovers.
MSUB’s Hudson came close to a double-double with 14 points and nine rebounds, while Jonathan Mesghna added 13 points and Devon Wallace 11.
Senior point guard Kalob Hatcher had 12 points and eight assists in his final game as a Yellowjacket.
A second-team all-GNAC selection, Hatcher finished with 208 assists this season, which ranks sixth-best, while his 350 career assists put him eighth all-time at MSUB in just two seasons. He averaged 7.7 assists a game this year, fifth-best for a single-season, while his career average of 6.14 assists a game ranks fourth all-time.
MSUB was without freshman guard Marc Matthews, who suffered a broken foot last week against Northwest Nazarene.