By JOEL CARLSON | Photos by WILLIAM MUNOZ
Mia Loyd, with just 22 points through her team’s first five Big Sky Conference games, had been mostly missing in action for North Dakota since the start of league play. The preseason Big Sky MVP is MIA no longer.
With the score tied and the Fighting Hawks inbounding the ball under their own basket with 0.5 seconds left, Makailah Dyer found an open Loyd, and her uncontested lay-in gave North Dakota a 61-59 victory over Montana Saturday afternoon.
It was just the third home loss to a Big Sky Conference opponent for the Lady Griz since the start of the 2012-13 season and the Fighting Hawks’ first win at Dahlberg Arena in six tries.
Loyd’s basket capped a frenetic final minute that started when Kayleigh Valley pulled her team, which led for just 72 seconds Saturday, within one, 57-56, with a pair of free throws after the North Dakota bench was issued a technical foul for calling a timeout the Hawks didn’t have.
With Montana in possession following the free throws, Valley missed a turnaround in the lane, a shot that would have given the Lady Griz their first lead since the opening minutes of the game. Samantha Roscoe put North Dakota up 59-56 at the other end on a short jumper with 21 seconds left.
Montana opted to advance the ball into its frontcourt following a timeout, a new rule for 2015-16, and McCalle Feller, hero-in-waiting with 25 second-half points had the Lady Griz pulled it out, hit a 3-pointer with 17 seconds left to tie it at 59.
With the clock winding down and North Dakota scrambling to get any sort of good look for a potential game-winner, Leah Szabla drove the left side of the lane. Her shot was blocked out of bounds by Alycia Sims.
After a video review, the game clock was moved from 0.3 to 0.5, just enough time for Loyd’s heroics.
Six-foot-six center Stephanie Smith, posted up on the left block and the obvious target for a lob pass, took up most of Montana’s attention. That allowed Szabla to set a screen near the left elbow, and Loyd ducked to the opposite side of the basket.
The ensuing review that confirmed the basket was good was merely perfunctory. So quick with her shot was Loyd, the ball was settling softly into the net before the buzzer sounded.
“I’m always going to roll the dice with Mia Loyd and a last-second shot at the rim,” said UND’s Travis Brewster, who improved to 4-4 as a head coach against Montana’s Robin Selvig.
“We told Steph to sell it and told Mia that we’re coming to her. I wanted Makailah to either lob it at the rim or throw it straight to her. It was either going to be in her hands to power-score or try to tip it in. It was a great pass by Makailah, a great finish by Mia.”
And probably the result Montana earned after going 8 for 32 in the first half. After Feller and Alycia Sims put the Lady Griz up 4-2 in the early going, Montana went large chunks of time between field goals and trailed 25-19 at the half, its lowest halftime total of the season.
“We struggled so bad the first half, it didn’t look like it would turn out to be the heck of a basketball game it did,” said Selvig. “We didn’t have anybody who could make a shot, but we kind of hung around. When we were only down six at the half, I thought, that’s not so bad.
“We were fortunate we were still in the game. It’s tough to weather a shooting half like that. We simply couldn’t score. I’m proud of the ladies for battling back and having a chance to win it at the end.”
Montana would only trim its deficit by two through the third quarter and still trailed 38-34 entering the fourth.
That’s when the game turned from a defensive struggle to an unexpected offensive showcase. Feller scored 16 of her game-high 31 points in the fourth quarter, going 4 for 6 from 3-point range, and the teams combined to score 48 points, more than they did the entire first half.
While she didn’t match Feller in point production, Dyer was just as big when the game demanded it. She scored seven points and dished out four assists in the quarter, setting up both Roscoe’s basket with 21 seconds left and Loyd’s game-winner.
“We didn’t really get going offensively until late, and then McCalle just took over,” said Selvig. “She was feeling it, and we’ve all seen when she gets going like that. They were trying like heck to guard her, and she still jumped up and made big threes. She basically gave us a chance to win.”
But North Dakota, outscored just 25-23 in the quarter despite Feller’s barrage, answered every threat to its lead with key basket after key basket. Montana three times tied it in the early moments of the fourth quarter and four times cut it to one in the final two and a half minutes.
And still the Fighting Hawks did not trail the game’s final 35 minutes.
“McCalle started making shots, and that gave us a chance, but every time we had the chance to take the lead, they got out in transition or got to the hole or the foul line. We never got stops when we started scoring,” said Selvig.
“We ended up trading baskets with them and came up one play short. It turns out they got the last one. Credit them for getting it done.”
Feller, who added a team-high three assists, reached 30 points for the third time since Dec. 19, and Valley added 16, though she struggled getting open looks inside against North Dakota’s size and finished 6 for 14, her first time shooting less than 60 percent the last four games.
Hannah Doran scored seven points off the bench. The rest of the team was 2 for 20. Montana almost overcame its shooting woes because of a season-low five turnovers.
Dyer led North Dakota (6-11, 2-4 BSC), which shot better than 40 percent both halves and finished at 44.2, with 19 points and five assists. Loyd had 14 points, Roscoe 10.
At 11-6 overall, 4-2 in league, Montana falls two games off the Big Sky Conference lead of Montana State (13-4, 6-0 BSC), a 66-58 winner at home Saturday over Northern Colorado (7-9, 2-4 BSC).
The Big Sky’s other unbeaten, Eastern Washington (10-6, 4-0 BSC), plays at Northern Arizona (5-10, 1-3 BSC) Saturday night.
In other league games Saturday afternoon, Idaho State (8-8, 1-4 BSC) held off Portland State (2-14, 0-5 BSC) 71-70, and Weber State (12-4, 4-1 BSC) moved into third place with a 77-66 home win over Sacramento State (6-10, 3-2 BSC).
Idaho (11-5, 3-1 BSC) plays at Southern Utah (3-12, 0-4 BSC) Saturday night.
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