Bozeman, Mont. – The Eastern Washington University women's basketball team nearly erased an 18-point second half deficit before ultimately falling to Montana State, 63-53, in a Big Sky Conference game at Worthington Arena Thursday, Feb. 26.
Eastern falls to 10-5 in Big Sky play and 17-9 overall while Montana State improves to 7-9 in conference action and 13-14 overall.
What It Means
The loss snaps EWU's six-game winning streak and puts it back in a two-way tie for second place in the league standings with Sacramento State, who was idle tonight.
The Eagles have already clinched a spot in the upcoming Big Sky Tournament, along with the Hornets and first-place Montana, while Northern Colorado secured its spot with a win over Southern Utah tonight. If the tournament started today, EWU would be the No. 2 seed facing Idaho State in the first round.
The Bobcats led by as many as 18 points in the second half, using a jumper from Hannah Caudill to take a 51-33 advantage with 8:41 remaining. Just when it seemed as if Eastern had fallen too far behind, a pair of free throws from junior Hayley Hodgins ignited a 16-2 run over the next six minutes, pulling EWU to within four, 53-48. The elder Hodgins scored 10 of the Eagles' 16 points in that span.
Montana State stopped the run on its next possession as Kalli Durham made two free throws. Eastern cut the host's lead to four points twice more down the stretch but turned the ball over with 1:00 remaining, sacrificing a chance to pull within one made basket of the Bobcats. MSU's Lindsay Stockton went 1-of-2 from the line after being fouled, missing her second attempt, but the Eagles failed to secure the ball, giving Montana State another possession.
After passing the ball around for 20 seconds, the Bobcats' Jackie Elliott nailed a three-pointer with 36 seconds left to put the hosts up eight, 61-53. Eastern turned the ball over on its next time down the court before MSU's Jasmine Hommes made two free throws to seal the win.
Senior Melissa Williams set a new career high with 17 rebounds, adding 16 points to record her fourth straight double-double and her 10th this season. She had 12 of her points and 10 of her rebounds in the opening 20 minutes. She went 6-of-11 from the field and a perfect 4-of-4 from the free throw line.
Hayley Hodgins led all scorers with 22 points, exploding for 18 in the second half. She added nine rebounds, falling just shy of her second career double-double. She added three assists and two blocked shots to her stat line.
EWU shot just 33.3 percent from the field, its lowest mark in Big Sky play and worst percentage since shooting 32.7 percent against Gonzaga back on Dec. 3, 2014. Montana State shot 40.0 percent on the night.
The league's best three-point shooting team, Eastern made just two triples, both of which came late in the second half.
The Eagles outrebounded the Bobcats, 42-29, but turned the ball over 18 times to MSU's 13 miscues.
Montana State got 24 points from its bench compared to five points by EWU's reserves.
"It certainly felt good to see the team show some resiliency despite the deficit. We set some short-term goals over the last 10 minutes and were able to accomplish most of them until there was about 1:30 left. It took a lot of guts to come back like that. When you dig such a big whole early, you have to expend a lot of energy digging out of it and that sometimes makes it harder to get over the top. I felt like that's what happened to us tonight. It's hard to win when you shoot 33 percent. I thought it was an uncharacteristic shooting night for us, but Montana State did some good things defensively. We had some open looks, however, and just missed some shots that we typically knock down.
"Coming into this game, we hadn't lost in the month of February, so we're doing a lot of things right. We just need to get back to doing those things consistently. Tonight, we missed our first few shots and let it get to our heads. I thought we worried about it more than we needed to. On the defensive end, when we made our comeback, we quit thinking and just played instinctively, and we weren't doing that early. We just need to get back to doing the things that we do well and being solid defensively and getting stops."
* EWU's 53 points were its fewest in conference play and the least since it scored 53 points against SMU back on Nov. 22, 2014.
* Williams' 17 rebounds increase her season total to 249 boards, good for fifth all-time in single-season history. Her 17 rebounds also ranks fourth all-time in EWU's NCAA Division I history.
* Senior Lexie Nelson was held scoreless for the first time in her Eastern career.
Tweet of the Game
Eastern will play its final road game of the regular season this Saturday, Feb. 28, at Montana. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. PT.