Late Free Throws the Difference as Eagles Drop Lady Griz

By JOEL CARLSON for GoGriz.com

Laura Hughes’ offensive rebound and free throws with 1.8 seconds remaining was the difference Thursday night as Eastern Washington held off Montana in a 58-56 thriller at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

The Eagles (7-5, 3-0 BSC) won their fifth straight game and remained unbeaten in Big Sky Conference play. They also handed the Lady Griz (8-4, 2-1 BSC) their first league loss and snapped Montana’s winning streak at three.

Montana, which never held a second-half lead, rallied back from a seven-point deficit in the final 3:27 and twice pulled even with Eastern Washington in the final minute.

The game’s final tie came when senior Katie Baker hit a driving lay-up with 13.9 seconds to play. That gave the Eagles enough clock to make the game-winning series of plays.

With the clock winding down, former Lady Griz Lexie Nelson got a handoff at the top of the key. She drove the right side of the lane, and her attempt to draw a foul ended up with a shot that was well short of the rim.

Hughes grabbed the heads-up offensive rebound, and she was fouled by Montana’s Kenzie De Boer on Hughes’ putback attempt with 1.8 seconds to play.  She converted both free throws, and Montana’s desperate, full-court heave on the game’s final play was harmlessly batted to the floor.

Montana nearly won despite shooting 32.1 percent, its worst offensive game since shooting 26.3 percent in its season-opening loss at Temple. The game came down to the final seconds because the Lady Griz held the Eagles to 31.4 percent shooting.

“That’s a tough game to lose,” UM coach Robin Selvig said. “It felt like a struggle the whole night, and it probably did for them too.

“Eastern is a good team, and it’s not often you’re going to come in and beat them shooting 32 percent. We almost did, but it was too little, too late.”

The loss spoiled an individual milestone for De Boer, who scored her 1,000th career point late in the second half with a classic De Boer slashing drive to the rim. She becomes the program’s 29th 1,000-point scorer.

The tone of the game was set early. The teams combined to open 2 for 21 from the field, and Eastern Washington held an unsightly 3-2 lead nearly eight minutes into the game.

Freshman Shanae Gilham, Montana’s instant offense, came off the bench in her usual reserve rotation and changed that. She hit a pair of threes two minutes apart, and that, plus five straight points from De Boer, helped spark the Lady Griz to an 18-11 advantage.

That would be Montana’s largest lead of the game.

A three by Nelson, her third in three early attempts, woke up the Eagles’ offensive, and EWU went on a nine-point run to take a 20-19 lead with 3:10 to play.

The teams exchanged baskets and went to the locker room tied at 24.

Montana shot just 22.6 percent over the first 20 minutes, but the Lady Griz turned the ball over just six times and converted nine offensive rebounds into 12 second-chance points.

Eastern’s fast finish to the first half carried through the break, and the Eagles opened the second half on an 11-3 run through the opening 2:16. Montana’s only basket during that stretch was an uncalled banked-in 3-pointer by junior Jordan Sullivan from the top of the key.

But the lead never extended past eight, and Montana almost completed a late comeback.

After a free throw by Carrie Ojeda made it 53-46 at the 3:50 mark, the Lady Griz answered with six straight points — a midrange jumper by Sullivan and a pair of free throws from both Baker and senior Alyssa Smith — to pull within one with 2:21 still remaining.

An Eastern free throw made it 54-52, and then Baker and Smith combined for a senior moment to tie the score with 1:22 left.

With Baker double-teamed on the left block, an uncovered Smith dove to the right box, and a composed Baker hit her teammate for an uncontested layup that tied the game for the first time since it was 24-24.

With the shot clock winding down on EWU’s next possession, Melissa Williams hit a clutch 15-foot jumper from the left wing, courtesy of a nice drive-and-dish by Kylie Huerta.

Hoping to win the game in regulation, Selvig inserted Gilham into his lineup. Her three attempt with 28 seconds to go was off the mark, but Baker grabbed the offensive rebound.

That set up Baker’s game-tying drive and Hughes’ game-winning free throws.

“It would have been a great win to come to their place and get them, but ultimately if we don’t start making more shots, it’s going to be like this every night,” Selvig said.

“We’re working hard and doing some nice things on the defensive end, but we need to make more shots so we can get away from people.”

Baker was Montana’s lone double-digit scorer with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting. She also added 12 boards for her 14th career double-double and a game-high three blocks.

No one else scored more than seven points, with De Boer, junior Torry Hill and sophomore Kellie Cole combining to shoot 3 for 20.

Nelson, who entered the game averaging 15.4 points, scored 14, but they came on 3-of-13 shooting, with all her makes coming from 3-point range.

Montana will try to start a new winning streak Saturday when it faces Portland State (7-5, 1-2 BSC) at 3 p.m. (MT) at PSU Stott Center. The Vikings lost at home Thursday night to Montana State (8-4, 2-1 BSC) 79-74.

In other league games Thursday, North Dakota (6-6, 1-2 BSC) won at home over Idaho State (6-5, 1-2 BSC) 64-59, Northern Colorado (4-6, 2-0 BSC) won at home over Weber State (0-12, 0-3 BSC) 69-48, and Northern Arizona (2-10, 1-2 BSC) won on the road at Southern Utah (7-5, 1-1 BSC) 71-61.

BOXSCORE

Montana Sports Information  —  GoGriz.com