Montana jumped out to a 13-0 lead on Saturday afternoon in its road game at Eastern Washington, but a thin bench and Violet Kapri Morrow were too much to overcome as the Eagles rallied for a 67-64 victory in Cheney.
Morrow scored a game-high 25 points and Eastern Washington had a 27-0 advantage in bench scoring as the Eagles ran their winning streak over the Lady Griz to six and defeated Montana for the sixth consecutive time at Reese Court.
The two teams are now tied for sixth in the Big Sky Conference standings with four weeks of regular-season games remaining before the league tournament in Boise.
Emma Stockholm hit her first three shots and Montana (10-11, 5-7 BSC) hit five of its first six to race out to an 11-0 lead just over four minutes into the game.
A pair of McKenzie Johnston free throws at the 3:42 mark made it 13-0.
“We got off to a good start. We were knocking down shots and had a little bit of everything going,” said coach Shannon Schweyen.
Eastern Washington (6-15, 5-7 BSC) went 4 for 26 in the second half in Thursday’s home loss to Montana State and missed its first eight shots on Saturday, but the Eagles would warm up before the first quarter was over.
Morrow got the Eagles on the board with a 3-pointer, and the Eagles would pull within 17-13 just 90 seconds into the second quarter.
Neither team would lead by more than six the rest of the game.
“We hit a dry spell and they got back into it,” said Schweyen, whose team missed seven of its next nine shots after its hot start. “Then it was a battle back and forth the rest of the way.”
There would be four lead changes in the final two minutes.
Sammy Fatkin hit two free throws with 1:55 left to give Montana a 62-61 lead. Eastern Washington answered back 25 seconds later.
Montana went back ahead, 64-63, when Jace Henderson rebounded a missed shot and scored with 1:05 to play.
Morrow would score what turned out to be the game-winner with 39 seconds left, off a post entry pass and easy finish, but Montana still had plenty of chances.
Gabi Harrington drove to the basket and drew a blocking call with 24 seconds left. One official, the one who signaled the infraction to the scoretable, appeared to motion for two shots, but she was overruled and the play resulted in a baseline throw-in.
With the clock under 10 seconds, McKenzie Johnston found herself under the basket and seemingly in trouble, but Harrington flashed into the lane and Johnston found her.
Her largely uncontested lay-in attempt with eight seconds left somehow rolled off the front of the rim.
Alissa Sealby hit two free throws at the other end with 6.3 seconds left for the game’s final points.
Harrington got a good look at a potential tying 3-pointer from the right wing at the buzzer — she was squared up, just behind the line and loosely defended — but it was long and bounced off the back rim.
She would finish with a team-high 17 points.
“Gabi had a really good look to tie it,” said Schweyen. “That’s about as good a look as you’re going to get, and she’s been hot. Unfortunately it didn’t go our way down the stretch.”
Four of Montana’s five starters played at least 35 minutes. The other, Stockholm, left the game early with five fouls.
Montana’s four subs off the bench, all first-year players, combined to take just two shots.
“I thought the girls played hard. They battled. A lot of them played a ton of minutes,” said Schweyen, whose team was again without freshman Katie Mayhue. And Taylor Goligoski. And others. And just wrapped up five consecutive games on the road.
“It’s been a tough stretch, losing Taylor and Katie, and playing five road games. We played two good teams this week on the road tough. I’m proud of what we did. It would have been nice to sneak one out.”
It came down to little things, as would be expected in a game that came down to the final shot.
Montana missed seven free throws, six in the third quarter. After Harrington scored inside at the 4:46 mark of the third quarter to put the Lady Griz up 45-39, they missed three straight free throws that could have extended the lead to more than six.
“You have to make those on the road,” said Schweyen, who watched her team miss two free throws while holding a six-point advantage and Morrow go down and drill a three for what was one of the game’s bigger moments. “In a game like this, every one of them is big.”
Morrow’s triple was one of four for her and one of nine for the Eagles, who made 10 in their 68-62 win at Missoula last month.
“I felt like they got too many catch-and-shoot threes. We talked about being up on them, and they still made nine,” said Schweyen.
Three of EWU’s makes from the arc came from Jessica McDowell-White, who’s taken eight 3-pointers for every 10 shots she’s taken this season.
“That’s all she does is shoot threes,” said Schweyen. “She’s a designated 3-point shooter. She’s hardly taken anything inside the arc. Too many times we were too far away from her and let her catch and shoot.”
Her 3-pointer at the 5:47 mark of the fourth quarter gave Eastern Washington what would be its largest lead of the game, 61-56.
Montana answered with a 6-0 run, with Harrington and Stockholm scoring, then Fatkin connecting twice from the line with 1:55 left to give Montana a 62-61 lead.
Eastern Washington was down one and north of four minutes without a point when Grace Kirscher let fly a 3-pointer with 1:35 left. She missed, but Uriah Howard was there for the rebound and the put-back.
It was another huge moment, right when the Eagles were faltering. It’s something Schweyen preaches. When the offense is struggling, nothing gets things righted faster than an offensive rebound put-back.
She was right. It got Eastern Washington going. It was one of 15 offensive rebounds for the Eagles.
“Fifteen O-boards. I just feel like that’s the difference in the game,” said Schweyen. “Howard had some huge boards down the stretch that hurt us. Somehow, someway we just lost her down there.”
The game was there for the taking, then it slipped away. A curious officiating call, a lay-in that somehow stayed out of the basket, an open look by the player you’d want with the ball in her hands at that moment. And it was off.
And it was over, a winless road trip that somehow felt better than 0-2.
“We’ll watch this and hopefully learn from it,” said Schweyen, whose team will host Weber State and Idaho State next week at Dahlberg Arena. “It’s unfortunate. I felt like we could have gotten out of here with a win and something to show for the effort.”
Press release courtesy of Joel Carlson – Montana Sports Information. Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.