It was a matinee game but a prime-time performance by McKenzie Johnston on Thursday afternoon against Eastern Washington in Cheney.
The senior point guard became the latest Lady Griz to flirt with the program’s first-ever triple-double, finishing with 22 points, nine assists and eight rebounds as the Lady Griz bounced back from Saturday’s overtime loss to Montana State with a convincing 77-56 victory over the Eagles at Reese Court.
Montana (12-9, 7-5 BSC) shot 47.1 percent in the first half to jump out to a 41-24 halftime lead and never looked back.
“Just a great group effort by everybody. They were fired up in the locker room,” said coach Shannon Schweyen, whose team had 24 assists on its 29 made baskets while matching a season low with just seven turnovers.
“That’s kind of what this team has been doing all year. I love the way these guys work together. When we play with this kind of intensity, I love our chances against anybody.”
In her final game at Reese Court, Johnston made sure early on that the Lady Griz wouldn’t be leaving town without their first victory in Cheney since 2012.
She had nine points and three assists in the first quarter alone, 14 points, six rebounds and four assists at the half as she controlled every aspect of the game like it was her personal marionette.
Her performance came less than a month after she had 11 points, 10 assists and no turnovers in Montana’s 92-54 home win over Eastern Washington (2-18, 1-10 BSC).
“It’s a good matchup for me. With their zone, it makes it easier to find open people,” she said. “It was definitely the response we wanted after having a loss like Saturday.”
Johnston’s 22 points was her second-best scoring game of the season and came on the heels of putting up 20 on Saturday against the Bobcats.
She went 9 for 16 against the Eagles and matched her career high by going 4 for 6 from 3-point range.
“I had some confidence in me today,” said Johnston, who moved past Kenzie De Boer and into 13th place on the all-time Lady Griz scoring list.
“Sophie (Stiles) has been telling me to shoot the ball more and take those open threes. It helps when your teammates have your back.”
Stiles not only encouraged, she distributed, finishing with a career-high eight assists as Montana shot 43.9 percent.
The Lady Griz trailed for just 22 seconds on Thursday as they put up 28 first-quarter points to blitz the Eagles early.
But it wasn’t just the offense that won the day. Montana’s defense held a dangerous offensive team in check throughout. One of the nation’s top 3-point shooting teams went a quiet 7 of 22 from the arc.
“I felt like we really slapped some defense on today. It was good to see the ladies working as one unit out there,” said Schweyen.
“They were certainly synced and knew what our game plan was and did a heck of a job. Our intensity was good for 40 minutes. We certainly made it difficult for them to get easy ones.”
If Johnston and Stiles, who had three steals, had it going on the perimeter, Abby Anderson returned to form inside.
The 6-foot-2 post went just 6 for 28 during Montana’s four-game home stand. She matched that output on Thursday on a lot fewer attempts, going an efficient 6 for 10 and scoring 15 points.
“She’s always responded positively when we’ve had a visit. We talked about powering it in today and no more fading away,” Schweyen said.
“After her first one, every other one had a little more momentum to the basket. She had some big, big plays for us.”
Eastern Washington got within 16 points once in the third quarter, once in the fourth, but it was never going to be enough, not with the way Montana was handling the ball and defending the 3-point line.
Eagles freshman Jenna Dick put up 28 points on Sacramento State at Reese Court on Saturday, hitting eight 3-pointers. Montana limited her to 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting.
“We did a nice job on her,” said Schweyen. “She’s been lighting it up from three lately.
“And then we took really good care of it. Our guards did a nice job. Our passing and catching was good against their zone. That was huge to give ourselves all those extra possessions.”
For the moment, the win leaves Montana alone in fourth place in the Big Sky standings, with four league games on Thursday night, including first-place Montana State playing at second-place Idaho.
Montana will host the Vandals at 2 p.m. on Saturday before playing five of its final seven regular-season games on the road.
Press release courtesy of Joel Carlson – Griz Communication.
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.