For most of the game, it was as close as close can get.
But one poor stretch by the Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team broke open a close game and helped Montana State win 73-60 in a key early-season Big Sky Conference game Saturday (Jan. 5) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
The Bobcats took advantage of an EWU scoring drought and used a 15-4 run to break open a game that included 12 ties and 15 lead changes. Midway through the second half, Eastern went nearly six minutes without scoring, as its five-point lead at the 11-minute mark turned into a six-point deficit with 5:33 to play.
The loss ended EWU’s five-game winning streak, which included a perfect 3-0 start to the Big Sky Conference season. EWU is now 7-6 overall and 3-1 in the Big Sky, while Montana State improves to 3-1 in the league and 9-4 overall.
“I was not pleased with who we were this afternoon,” said EWU head coach Wendy Schuller. “I was not pleased with our performance in terms of movement, energy and all the things we need to be. It’s disappointing to do that on your home floor.”
Carrie Ojeda had a double-double to lead the Eagles with 13 points and 10 rebounds, with 11 of those points and six boards coming in the second half.
“Carrie battled, and played really hard for us,” said Schuller. “It would be nice if we could get her more touches in the paint. Part of that is her positioning, and some of it is our guards working to get the ball into her. But I think we need to do a better job of getting the ball to Carrie. She played hard tonight, and you could tell she was determined to do a good job on the glass for us.”
Laura Hughes had nine first-half points and finished with 11. Lexie Nelson finished with 10 points, and Kyle Huerta scored six of her seven points in the first half.
Montana State made 61 percent of its shots in the second half (17-of-28), compared to just 26 percent for the Eagles (7-of-27). The Bobcats finished at 48 percent for the game, while Eastern made only 37 percent.
“Their [Montana State’s] offensive execution was really good,” said Schuller. “They did a great job of getting the ball into the paint, whether it was with post entries or drives. They just found ways to score inside. I felt like we were reacting rather than anticipating on the defensive end, and because of that, we got the result we did.”
There were five ties and 10 lead changes in the first half, and EWU led 30-28 at intermission. The biggest lead for either team was four points by MSU, and Eastern held a 3-point lead at one point. Hughes and Huerta sparked the Eagles off the bench, combining for 15 of EWU’s 30 first-half points.
Eastern opened a five-point lead early in the second half, then took a 50-45 advantage with 11:03 to play on a steal and basket by Ojeda. But that would be the last Eagle lead of the night.
Eastern went the next 5:48 without a field goal, as MSU used an 8-0 run to take the lead for good, then extended the lead to 60-54. During that stretch, Eastern missed five field goals, had five turnovers and made only 4-of-7 free throws.
A basket by Nelson ended the drought, and two free throws by Hughes pulled Eastern to within two at 60-58. But a three-point play by MSU’s Rachel Semansky ignited a game-ending 13-2 run in the final 4:02 by the Bobcats.
Semansky, an All-Big Sky second-team selection in 2011-12, had 20 points and eight rebounds to lead the Bobcats, making 8-of-10 shots from the field and 4-of-7 free throws. She entered the game averaging 13.7 points per game on a conference-leading 57.4 percent from the field.
The loss denied EWU head coach Wendy Schuller a chance at her 150th win at Eastern. Her career record as a head coach currently stands at 149-186. Schuller is 77-93 in Big Sky Conference play.