Five players score in double figures for Eagles, but season ends for EWU while Bengals advance to Big Sky Tournament semifinals
As expected, the rubber match between seeds Nos. 4 and 5 was close – and a grinder.
Idaho State made back-to-back baskets early in overtime and that was enough for the fifth-seeded Bengals to pull out a 70-65 victory over No. 4 Eastern Washington University Thursday (March 13) in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament at the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center in Grand Forks, N.D.
The win advances ISU (14-16) to the semifinals of the tournament Friday versus top-seeded and tournament host North Dakota (20-9). Five Eagles scored in double figures as EWU ended its season with a 16-14 record. The game featured seven ties and seven lead changes, and a total of 44 fouls were whistled in the physical matchup.
“There were times we were really good defensively and clicking on offense – things were going really well,” said Eastern head coach Wendy Schuller. “But at other times we just weren’t so good. We didn’t show the toughness we needed to have to get stops.”
Senior forward Aubrey Ashenfelter, who played in a school-record 122 games as an Eagle, paced the Eagles with 17 points and four assists. Junior Lexie Nelson, sophomore Hayley Hodgins, junior Melissa Williams and freshman Jade Redmon all finished with 10. But Nelson and Hodgins, both All-Big Sky Conference performers for the Eagles, were held scoreless in the overtime.
Both team’s defenses were stout, with EWU making just 39.0 percent of its shots from the field, including only 4-of-14 free throws. Idaho State made 37.9 percent, and was 7-of-20 from the 3-point arc. Idaho State forced 19 turnovers, and Hodgins had three steals as the Eagles forced 16 Bengal miscues.
“We knew coming in it was going to be an extremely physical basketball game because of the offensive style of Idaho State,” explained Schuller. “We played them a week ago so we had a really good idea of what was coming. We knew they would have five players going to the glass boxing out, and bringing great effort. So it wasn’t a surprise.”
The only glaring difference in the game was ISU’s 46-32 advantage in rebounding, including 19 offensive rebounds leading to 16 second-chance points. The Bengals out-rebounded EWU 27-13 in the second half.
“We rebounded well in the first half, but in the second half we didn’t rebound nearly as well,” said Schuller. “Idaho State is one of those teams that keeps coming and coming. You can’t let down for a second. When we did, it was costly.”
Lindsey Reed, a first team All-Big Sky selection for ISU, led the Bengals with 19 points. Jessica Tingey, who played the second half with four fouls, scored 13 before picking up her fifth foul in overtime. Her basket with 3:10 left in overtime gave ISU a five-point lead it held much of the rest of the game. Rebecca Schrimpsher scored ISU’s last five points, including a pair of free throws to ice the win and provide the final margin.
“In the end they had some players step up and hit some really big shots,” added Schuller. “And we didn’t knock those same shots down.”
Ashenfelter scored seven early points and the Eagles jumped out to a quick 11-2 lead. Eastern made six of its first eight shots in opening a 13-4 advantage, but then missed its next six.
Idaho State used a 10-0 run to turn the deficit into a 25-22 advantage as EWU went 2:28 without scoring. But EWU countered with an 8-0 run in the next 2:28 to take a 30-28 lead at halftime.
The second half was a heavyweight battle, with a 42-34 EWU lead early in the half wiped out with an 8-0 run. Eventually Eastern would regain a 51-47 edge on a basket by Nelson, but six-straight ISU points gave the Bengals a 53-51 lead at the 2:47 mark.
The game was tied at 53, 55 and 57 when Williams missed a short jumper with just under 30 seconds to play. Eastern’s full-court pressure almost forced an ISU turnover, but after a jump ball that favored the Bengals, Idaho State missed a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer.
The game was tied at 59 in overtime when ISU made back-to-back baskets. Eastern cut the lead to three on three occasions after that, but all three times Schrimpsher followed with points to regain the five-point bulge. The key plays in overtime came when Reed was called for a charge with ISU leading 68-65, but then Hodgins followed with a charge of her own with 23.3 seconds left.
NOTES AND QUOTES
* The Eagles had entered the tournament having won eight of its last 11 games dating back to the start of February. Eastern split the season series with Idaho State as both teams won on their home floors. A week ago on March 6, Eastern fell at Idaho State, 86-62. The first meeting was two months earlier, and was won 67-55 by the Eagles in Cheney.
* The Eagles have now faced the Bengals three times in the Big Sky Tournament, and have dropped all three.
* Ashenfelter closed her career with 17 points, making 6-of-16 shots from the field and finishing with four assists, three rebounds and a pair of steals. “It definitely had an impact on the way I played, knowing this could be my last game with my teammates,” she said. “I really wanted to win so I was going to try and find a way.”
* Junior Lexie Nelson, who now has 477 points on the season to rank as the fifth-most in school history, also had high praise for Ashenfelter. Ashenfelter and Laura Hughes, who scored six points, are the lone seniors for EWU. “Aubrey is a great player – we are definitely going to miss her,” said Nelson. “She came out and gave it everything she had tonight, both offensively and defensively -- she played both ends of the floor. We learned a lot from her, and we’re sorry we couldn’t get this win for (our seniors).”
* Nelson only played seven minutes in the first half after picking up two early fouls. Nelson was a first team All-Big Sky Conference performer for the Eagles, but she praised the Eagle bench for helping EWU lead 30-28 at halftime. “I need to be more disciplined myself and not pick up that second foul,” Nelson said. “But our team stepped up – we had players come off the bench that gave us a lift. We were alright.”
* Head coach Wendy Schuller had this to say about EWU’s finale: “It was an interesting season of ups and downs. A lot of times your last game is kind of a microcosm of the season, and today was one of those. We needed more focus and intensity to rebound – we didn’t do some of those things. At times offensively I felt like we were fighting it instead of just playing and letting things happen. I think in certain ways that was how our season went – game-by-game we played in spurts, I guess. That’s a hard one to end on.”
* Second-seeded Southern Utah (22-8) plays third-seeded Montana (21-9) in Friday’s other semifinal. The Thunderbirds eliminated Sacramento State with an 86-78 victory Thursday, and Montana beat Montana State 75-60. The Big Sky Tournament champion will be decided on Saturday, March 15, at 1 p.m. Pacific time.
* EWU edged Idaho State, 67-55, in this season's first meeting at Reese Court back on Jan. 4. Nelson and Hodgins combined for 37 of the Eagles' points, making five of the team's seven three-pointers. Eastern raced out to an 11-0 lead to start the game and never looked back, holding off a late rally from the Bengals while knocking down its free throws down the stretch. Idaho State scored 55 second-half points in this season's second meeting to cruise past the Eagles, 86-62. ISU shot a blistering 79 percent in the second half, missing just five of 24 shots while burying seven three-pointers.