Men's Basketball: Injury bug bites MCC in lopsided loss

This one hurt — literally.

Miles Community College’s leading scorer Montenia Nelson went down with an evening-ending injury to his left ankle just seconds into the second half.

Starting forward Deng Kuany hobbled to his seat, then headed to the locker room, with a knee injury with about 10 minutes to play.

And starting freshman forward Perion Little, who was playing hurt, limped to the bench late in the contest and retired for the night.

When sophomore forward Adoum Mbang fouled out with five minutes to play, the Pioneers were down to their final five.

And at game’s end — a 90-56 loss to nationally ranked Gillette College at the Centra in Miles City on Wednesday — Pioneer head coach Chase Tait was one of the few healthy bodies left on the bench.

“I had five [players] at the end,” Tait said of his squad, which has suffered a bizarre string of injuries that have made 5-on-5 practices impossible, and wins improbable.

“It’s just frustrating,” Tait said. “They’re really good kids. They’re trying. They haven’t had one thing go right in two months.”

“Snake bit” was how Gillette Head Coach Shawn Neary described the situation.

“Chase is doing a good job with what he has,” Neary said. “He’s been snake-bit this year.”

The fact that Neary brought the nation’s 14th-ranked junior college team to Miles City didn’t help matters for MCC’s walking wounded.

A healthy Pronghorn squad shot a blistering 50 percent (33-66), forced 17 turnovers and held the Pioneers to 33 percent (19-57) from the floor. Gillette also owned the boards, amassing a 45-36 rebounding edge behind 6’-7’’ freshman forward Edwin Jeudy, who collected 13 caroms.

A poor start contributed to the bad finish for Miles. The Pioneers missed their first 12 shots and trailed by 15 points midway through the first half, and by 25 points (45-20)  at the break.

Miles held its own, and even gained some ground, in the final 10 minutes of the game, outscoring the Pronghorns 10-4 during one four-minute stretch.

Sophomore guard Kameron Rauch of Billings netted 13 points to pace the Pioneers, while sophomore forward Oumar Diaby added 10 points, including a pair of three-pointers.

Nelson, who was averaging 22.2 points per game, was slowed after first injuring his ankle at practice on Monday. He scored just two points before going to the floor, writhing in pain.

Gillette, which improved to 4-1 in NJCAA Region 9 and 19-2 overall, featured a balanced, high-flying scoring attack that included a half-dozen dunks. Ted McCree led four Pronghorns in double figures with 19 points.

“They’re really deep; really balanced,” Tait said of Gillette.

The Pioneers, who were 7-5 on Dec. 9, fell to 8-12 overall and 0-5 in the region. It was their eighth-straight loss. 

On the plus side, Tait said the rash of injuries and resulting adversity can build character.

“In the long run this can be a great learning experience for all of us,” he said.