Perfection at the Brick belongs to the Bobcats. And another Big Sky banner will hang from the rafters at Worthington Arena.
Behind the leadership of stellar seniors Peyton Ferris, Riley Nordgaard and Margreet Barhoum, the Montana State women’s basketball team closed out its first perfect season at home Friday night at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.
Barhoum, a fifth-year point guard making her second straight start (and fifth of her career) pushed the tempo from the opening tip. Nordgaard grabbed 12 of Montana State’s 50 rebounds as the Bobcats built an 18-rebound advantage on the glass. And Ferris hit timely shot after timely shot to once again torment the Weber State Wildcats, scoring 22 points to go with 10 rebounds in the final home performance of her illustrious career.
Those finales coupled with another steady performance from junior Delany Junkermier and a 13-point explosion off the bench from true freshman Oliana Squires helped pace Montana State to a 72-53 victory in front of 2,478 fans on Senior Night in Bozeman.
“A lot of people don’t get to have this experience,” said Ferris, the current dominant Treasure State native in the Big Sky. “Fortunate enough to get a win, us two have a good game, Margreet played really well also, coming in at the point guard and taking care of the ball. I couldn’t be happier with the way this week ended.”
The victory is Montana State’s 25th straight at home, breaking the school record and ranking fourth in all of Division I. The win also capped a 13-0 season at the Brick, MSU’s first-ever undefeated campaign at home. MSU’s 22nd overall victory ties a school record and Montana State’s 15th Big Sky win is the most by Bobcat women’s team.
“That is awesome and to see this community rally around a hard-working, successful squad that has been fortunate enough to finish games, I think the fans are loving it just as much as we are,” Nordgaard said.
Behind 24 points from Ashley Bolston and a spirited effort on the glass, Portland State denied North Dakota its first outright Big Sky women’s title with an 81-67 victory in Portland Friday night. With both teams at 15-3 in the league standings, MSU earns the tiebreaker and the No. 1 seed in the Big Sky Tournament next week in Reno, Nevada because of a 74-71 overtime win over UND in Grand Forks on January 12.
The Bobcats’ win Friday night means MSU will hang a championship for the second straight year for the first time since 2002 and 2003. MSU won its first outright league title last season with a 14-4 record only to lose in its first tournament game on a buzzer-beater to Idaho State.
“It’s a testament to resilience of this team being really consistent this year,” MSU head coach Tricia Binford said. “It’s been a challenging conference race and I’m really proud of this group.”
MSU takes the No. 1 seed into the Big Sky Tournament for the second year in a row. The Bobcats will also earn an automatic bid to the WNIT if they do not win the BSC auto bid to the NCAA Tournament. MSU had an RPI of 88 entering Friday’s contest.
“When you look at the double-doubles and you look at how Greet ran the show today, it’s endless energy and effort and sweating and a lot of tears for this community that has been behind them for their whole careers,” said Binford, who moved to 193-165 with the last regular season victory of her 12th season at MSU. “We are going to miss them. They have done a lot to help in so many areas in our culture that we have been establishing. The one I addressed today was toughness. They all have different stories of overcoming adversity whether it was the injuries (Barhoum) or the redshirt (Ferris) or transferring (Nordgaard). I just think there’s such a perseverance spirit out of all three.”
Ferris, a Twin Bridges native and fan favorite for the duration of her rough and tumble five-year career, notched her eighth career double-double in front of MSU’s largest non-Cat-Griz crowd of the season. Before the game, the 5-foot-9 BSC MVP candidate took the court with her father Tom, her mom Bobette and her little brother Tyson to a raucous ovation.
“Held it together pretty well but it felt a little different,” Ferris said. “I didn’t get too emotional. It kind of hit me a bit when I was coming off the floor. I’m just proud of this year, proud of this team and we left on a good experience so it was easy to keep the emotions in control.”
With 1:38 left in the game and the result well in hand — MSU led by double-digits for the last 17:48 — Binford removed Ferris and Nordgaard to even louder applause.
“Pretty cool, pretty darn cool,” Nordgaard said. “Something I’ll never forget. The Bozeman community, this university, this institution, this staff, the athletic department, all these people have really welcomed me. I really hope they enjoyed me as much as I enjoyed them.”
Ferris had the best offensive night of her career in MSU’s win over Weber State last season. In MSU’s second-to-last home game, Ferris converted 16 of her 17 shot attempts and scored a career-high 33 points. On Friday, she converted her first four shots and scored nine first-quarter points as MSU jolted out to a 22-9 lead that stood at 22-11 at the end of the first frame. She finished the night 10-of-14, including a 3-pointer to open the game and another triple with 4:18 left to push the lead to 20. Her bucket on the next trip down pushed the lead to 22, MSU’s largest on a night the end result was never in question.
“I’ve adjusted and played more outside but tonight, I started my way outside and worked my way in,” Ferris said. “It was nice to get some post ups again and some nice baskets at the rim.”
Ferris now has 1,242 points in her career, the 14th most in school history despite this season serving as her first in the starting lineup. The two-time reigning BSC top reserve passed Amy Meckling and Erica Perry on MSU’s all-time list. Ferris also has 562 rebounds, good for 16th in school history. She is shooting 50.1 percent for her career, sixth ever at MSU.
Nordgaard, last year’s Big Sky Newcomer of the Year and a candidate for the league’s defensive MVP this season, came to Montana State after two years at Division II Augustana. After sitting out a season, the 5-foot-10 spark plug took the league by storm. On Friday, she helped lead MSU to its 29th league victory, setting another school record.
“I was putting (Senior Night) out of my mind, just trying to treat it like another game,” the Canby, Minnesota native while her parents Kelli and Kathi listened in on their daughter’s interview. “It was a little surreal receiving a plaque and the flowers and standing next to Greet and Peyton. I’m like, ‘Am I this old?’ And then it kind of started to seep in during timeouts and stuff. It hit me in waves.”
Nordgaard’s 12-rebound night is her eighth double-digit rebound game this season. She leads MSU with 7.9 rebounds per contest. Her 3-pointer with 3:55 left in the third quarter capped an 11-0 MSU run, giving her 107 3-point makes, the 10th-most ever at MSU.
“I’m happy,” Nordgaard said. “This was a tough game battling those emotions and trying to take in everything. What more can you ask for?”
North Dakota takes the No. 2 seed, Northern Colorado (14-4) is the No. 3 and Eastern Washington (12-6) is the No. 4, each earning first-round byes. The BSC tournament will open Monday at 12:05 p.m. PST with No. 8 seed Weber State playing No. 9 seed Sacramento State. The Bobcats will play the winner in the first game of Wednesday’s quarterfinals. MSU lost at UND and at UNC to finish the regular-season last spring, sparking a three-game losing streak to end the season. MSU enters the tournament this season on a four-game winning streak.
Big Sky Women’s Basketball Tournament
Monday March 6 (TIMES PACIFIC)
No. 8 Weber State vs. No. 9 Sacramento State – 12:05 p.m.
No. 5 Idaho vs. No. 12 Southern Utah – 2:35 p.m.
No. 7 Portland State vs. No. 10 Northern Arizona – 5:35 p.m.
No. 6 Idaho State vs. No. 11 Montana – 8:05 p.m.
Wednesday March 8 (TIMES PACIFIC)
No. 1 Montana State vs. Weber/Sac winner – 12:05 p.m.
No. 4 Eastern Washington vs. Idaho/SUU winner – 2:35 p.m
No. 2 North Dakota vs. PSU/NAU winner – 5:35 p.m.
No. 3 Northern Colorado vs. ISU/UM winner – 8:05 p.m.
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.