FAIRBANKS — The Alaska Nanooks put together a complete game Saturday afternoon at the Patty Center and it paid dividends in the form of a Great Northwest Athletic Conference victory against the Montana State Billings Yellowjackets.
Alaska jumped out to a 37-23 halftime lead and never let Montana State Billings get closer than five points in the second half en route to an 80-73 victory in front of 228 loyal fans.
The Nanooks employed a tough defense and some sharp shooting in the first half to take control of the contest early and never let the Yellowjackets go on a big run in the second half to secure a split of their first conference games of the season.
The Nanooks lost to the GNAC’s preseason coaches favorite Seattle Pacific on Thursday night.
“We couldn’t afford to drop this game,” second-year Alaska coach Mick Durham said outside the Nanooks locker room. “We needed to get one win out of this series so it was a huge win for us.”
Dominique Brinson played a huge role in the Nanooks (5-4 overall, 1-1 GNAC) win, leading five players in double figures with a 20-point performance.
“It was good to get the win,” said Brinson, who was 6 for 9 from the field, 4 for 7 from 3-point range and 4-for-4 from the free throw line. “We needed this to get us going again.”
Brinson credited Saturday’s shooting performance to putting in some extra time at the Patty Center.
“It felt nice today,” said Brinson. “I’ve just been putting in a lot of extra reps after practice.”
The Nanooks came out on fire, hitting on 62.5 percent of their field goal attempts in the first 20 minutes, including a 4 for 9 effort from beyond the three-point line. Although the Nanooks cooled off a bit in the second half (15 for 30), they still shot 56.6 percent from the field in the game.
The Nanooks defense held the Yellowjackets to 9 for 26 shooting in the first half and 2 for 9 from beyond the arc. The Yellowjackets heated up in the second half and finished the game shooting 42.9 percent from the floor (24 for 56) and 43.5 percent from 3-point range (10 for 23).
“Holding a team like Billings to 23 points in the first half was critical,” Durham said. “They are very capable shooters from
3-point range and I thought we did a nice job of holding them down, especially in the first half.”
Montana State Billings coach Jamie Stevens credited the Nanooks for putting the Yellowjackets in a first-half hole.
“They played well, especially in the first half and they made their shots,” Stevens said. “We like to play pressure defense and didn’t do a good job of it in the first half.”
Montana State Billings outscored Alaska 50-43 in the final 20 minutes, but every time the Yellowjackets looked like the might make a big run, the Nanooks were able to answer with a bucket or two.
“Our guys played with a little more urgency in the second half,” Stevens said. “All-in-all, Alaska played a solid game and stayed composed when we did come at them.”
Stevens gave Durham credit for getting the Alaska program headed in the right direction.
“The Nanooks are a much improved team this year,” Stevens said. “Mick has done a great job with these kids and he’s got them buying into his program.”
In addition to Brinson, guards Pat Voeut and Ronnie Baker, forward Dallen Bills and center Sergej Pucar had big nights for the Nanooks.
Voeut tallied 16 points on 4-6 shooting from the field and 7 for 7 shooting from the foul line. He also had six assists. Baker came off the bench and was 6 for 10 from the field for 12 points.
Bills was a perfect 5 for 5 from the field and grabbed three rebounds en route to a 10-point performance. Pucar contributed 12 points and had seven rebounds for Alaska.
The Nanooks outrebounded the Yellowjackets 36-22, led by the nine rebounds from Andrew Kelly.
The Alaska bench contributed 22 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and three steals to the winning effort.
Montana State Billings got 15 points apiece from forward Jarrell Crayton and David Arnold and 12 each from forward Carmeron Cusworth and guard Omar McDade.
The Nanooks have a month off from conference play, but they will play two nonconference games against Multnomah at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17-18 at the Patty Center.
Alaska’s next conference game is Jan. 3 at Central Washington.