Game Recap

Bobcat women outlast Bengals in OT

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BOZEMAN, Montana — Following her team’s 82-67 loss to mid-major powerhouse South Dakota State, Tricia Binford made a bold statement. 

Despite the fact that her team — which employs a roster that is the single youngest in the United States in women’s basketball — had just finished its non-conference 2-3, the 16th-year head coach said she felt like her team had enough talent to compete for a second consecutive Big Sky Conference title. 

On Saturday in Bozeman against another mid-major powerhouse, Binford’s charges proved her right, fully solidifying these Bobcats as a leading contender to hang a fourth regular-season Big Sky banner in the last six seasons. 

On Thursday, the upstart Bobcats ran into the best team in the league, falling 69-59 at Idaho State, abruptly ending MSU’s eight-game winning streak in the process. On Saturday at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse, Montana State built a 12-point halftime lead only to let it slip away. 

The hosts found themselves trailing the veteran, savvy Bengals 72-69 with six seconds to play. Out of a timeout, Binford drew up a great play that had sophomore point guard inbound the ball to junior post Gabby Mocchi. White then screened for Tori Martell, MSU’s lone senior and one of the top 3-point shooters in the West. 

Martell caught the ball, fired with her trademark quick release and drilled a 3-pointer to tie the game at 72. 

In the extra period, the Bobcats carried the momentum on the way to a signature 88-80 victory over a Bengals team that was 15-1 this season before last Saturday. 

“I’m so proud of our fight tonight to not give up,” Martell said. “We knew it was going to come down to the last second. I’m so proud of the team and we took big steps today.”

Montana State guard Tori Martell (12) shots a jumper vs. Idaho State Saturday/by Brooks Nuanez

Montana State’s rotation features just Martell and Mocchi among its most high minute earners among upper classmen, although Binford did point out the return of junior post Skye Lindsay to the lineup (seven points, three rebounds in 12 minutes) as a crucial factor on Saturday.  

The rest of the Bobcat rotation features White along with her stellar sophomore classmates Madison Jackson (20 points Saturday) and post Kola Bad Bear (14 points Saturday), a trio that played key roles on MSU’s record-setting championship team from a year ago. 

In the off-season, Binford had to trade the Big Sky’s best quartet of seniors — a group highlighted by Big Sky MVP Fallyn Freije — for five upstart rookies who have all taken turns having impressive impacts this season. 

On Saturday, Martell drilled four of her five attempts from deep and finished with 20 points overall. Jackson, an energetic jumping jack with among the best natural athleticism in the league, finally looked back to full form after battling illness all year, converting six of her nine shots and scoring 20 points to go with seven rebounds.

“Her spark for us on both ends of the floor is huge,” Binford said about Jackson. 

“When you even look back to last year’s team, Jack was a huge part of that. Darian and Fallyn got a lot of attention for their accolades. But Jack was also in that group and immediately, our practices got twice as competitive because of how hard those type of kids compete on a daily basis. It lifts everybody else to go that much harder. And on top of that, she is just one of the most selfless kids you will ever meet and she is a great teammate.”

Despite battling foul trouble, Bad bear nearly notched a double-double against the bruising, physical Bengals, pouring in 14 points and grabbing nine rebounds to help MSU compete with one of the league’s best rebounding teams. 

And White, the consummate floor general and the best dictator of the tempo of the game in the conference, scored 12 points as Montana State moved to 11-3 in league play, just a game behind Idaho State for the top spot in the conference. 

Montana State guard Madison Jackson (20) finishes a layup vs. Idaho State Saturday/by Brooks Nuanez

“After Thursday’s game, we were a little bit discouraged but we knew we could beat them,” Martell said. “We knew we could beat them. We knew if we played our game, moved the ball, played like we had been in the past few weeks, we could beat them. 

“In the end, we showed how much we wanted it. And we knew it would come down to how much we wanted it and the fight we put into it. We proved that we can be the best team in this conference.”

Martell scored nine points after her heroics to end regulation. But it was the buried 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds remaining that will be remembered most from the epic victory. 

“I could not have asked for better execution on that play,” Binford said. “Darian asked me three times what she needed to do after I drew it up. I said, “All you need to do is hit Gabby, screen Tori.” I told her that four times. And she did it. It got Tori a look that was a deep look but there’s nothing outside of Tori’s range. It was a really well executed play and a great shot. 

“That momentum going into overtime was huge for us.”

Heading into next weekend, Montana State is fully in the mix to win the conference again. 

“At the beginning, we kept saying, ‘this is going to take a lot longer,” Binford said. “You never know when you are going to be in and out, how many practices you are going to get, building that chemistry. We are in and out with kids available and lineups and all that but over the course, week by week, at this time of year, to have these kids starting to peek at the right time is great. 

“The fact that allows us to continue to improve is the fact that they are great teammates and team chemistry this time of year pays very big dividends. We are going to take this run as far as we can.”

ISU ripped off 14 straight victories at one point to sit at 11-0 in league play before losing a lopsided affair to rival Idaho in Moscow last Saturday. The Bengals reestablished the notion as the team to beat in the Big Sky with Thursday’s thorough, wire-to-wire performance. 

Idaho State guard Callie Bourne (12) looks to create vs. Montana State Saturday/by Brooks Nuanez

But on Saturday, the enthusiastic Bobcats continued doing what this group does best: they kept having fun. And part of that stemmed from the return of Jackson in the first game in which she has looked in peak form all season. Her infection energy helped carry the day as MSU earned a pivotal win despite losing the rebounding battle 48-41, shooting 43 percent and allowing five Bengals to finish in double figures scoring. 

“I’m on cloud nine right now, and especially because we had a W, I’ve been waiting for a game like this for a very long time,” Jackson said. “Covid really kicked my butt and I feel like God really blessed me in this game, truly.

“Never give up. There’s always that chance you can still win. You can still come back.”

Delaney Moore scored six of her game-high 25 points in the first six minutes of the game as ISU raced to a 17-4 lead. But Montana State buckled down, rallying to take a 37-29 lead into halftime thanks to finishing the first quarter on an 8-0 run and winning the second quarter 25-8. 

Moore finished with a game-high point total while also playing a big role in Bad Bear fouling out thanks to hitting 11 of her 16 free throw attempts. ISU All-league guard Callie Bourne had 14 points and 13 rebounds while hyper athletic Bengal point guard Diaba Konate flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 11 points, 10 rebounds and seven of ISU’s 17 assists. 

“We haven’t played Idaho or Southern Utah or Sac State yet but as far as the teams we’ve played, this has been the hardest one to guard,” Binford said. “They picked us apart in the second half. They exposed us and did a good job of how they got into actions today. The second half was really, really difficult to get any sort of stops on a consistent basis. 

“We didn’t feel like we were us on Thursday. They took away some of our primary actions and we didn’t respond to that or show resolve. Today, we responded.”

Montana State guard Darian White (2) finishes a layup over Idaho State guard Dora Goles (5) Saturday/by Brooks Nuanez

But Montana State never went away, allowing for Martell’s heroics to force overtime with enough momentum that the upstart Bobcats earned another key victory over a team that has represented one of the fiercest rivals in Binford’s tenure leading the Bobcats.

“It’s like we get anything easier this week going into a series with Idaho,” said Binford, referring to a Vandals’ squad that is 13-3 in league play. “Emotionally, we are going to have to look at the next two days from a recovery standpoint and we get to host these next two games and they have to travel. That’s going to also benefit us. 

“Regardless of the emotional toll this took, I thought it was pretty good timing given that we are only a few weeks away from Boise. This is what it’s going to feel like at the tournament, being able to respond to the pressure, the stressful situations. We weren’t able to handle that as well on Thursday and we found a way to get over that today.

“This is really the first test this team has had this year in a close situation where we have been successful. That’s a great opportunity to continue to build from.”

Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.

About Colter Nuanez

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate ('09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 13-year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to found Skyline Sports.

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