Missoula, Mont. – The Eastern Washington women's basketball team could not buy a bucket in the early going and, despite a run in the second half, was never able to overcome an early deficit, falling at Montana, 81-64, in a Big Sky counter Thursday, Jan. 9, at Dalhberg Arena.
Eastern (6-7, 2-2 Big Sky) started the game 1-of-10 from the field over the opening nine minutes as Montana (8-4, 2-1 BSC) raced out to a 17-8 lead. The Eagles pulled to within four late in the first half, but would get no closer as the Griz pulled away in the second stanza.
"Montana did a great job of playing to its strengths," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "We didn't help ourselves by digging an early hole, but I thought Montana was the tougher team tonight."
Junior Lexie Nelson and freshman Jade Redmon each tallied 11 points for EWU. Redmon's 11 points were a season high. Sophomore Hayley Hodgins chipped in 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting. Both Nelson and Hodgins knocked down a pair of triples.
The Eagles got 20 points from their bench, headlined by eight-point efforts from junior Melissa Williams and freshman Bethany Montgomery. Williams added a team-high six rebounds to go along with two blocks.
Despite struggling from the field in the early going, Eastern found itself down just nine, 17-8, thanks to six free throws. Montgomery buried a three-pointer at the 10:49 mark to bring EWU to within six, 17-11, but Montana used a 12-6 run over the next five minutes to go up 12, 29-17, with 5:07 remaining in the half.
The Eagles continued to fight back, pulling to within five, 31-26, after Nelson scored five points and Redmon knocked down a three-pointer. A pair of free throws from Williams cut the host's lead to four, 34-30, late in the half, but a jumper from Alycia Sims and a three-pointer from Torry Hill gave Montana a nine-point lead, 39-30, at the break.
Eastern shot 36 percent in the first half, but connected at a 53-percent clip in the final 10 minutes of the frame. Montana shot 44 percent in the opening half but got 11 points off seven EWU turnovers while recording 10 second-chance points.
The Griz were on fire out of the break, opening up an 18-point lead, 50-32, over the first four minutes. EWU showed resiliency, cutting Montana's lead to eight after scoring 10 straight points, highlighted by three-pointers from Nelson and Hodgins. Hodgins converted from long range to bring Eastern to within six, 53-47, with 12:08 remaining, leading Montana to call timeout.
"Our team finally started to get aggressive," Schuller said. "We figured out that we were able to get in some lanes and make some things happen."
The hosts buried a three-pointer out of the timeout, igniting an 11-0 run over the next three minutes to go up 17, 64-47. The Eagles continued to fight, pulling to within 10, 66-56, with 6:47 left to play, holding the Griz without a field goal for nearly three minutes. They would get no closer than that, however, as Montana scored the next 10 points to take an 18-point lead, 76-58, with 3:43 left to play. EWU was unable to generate another run down the stretch as the Griz held on for the win.
Eastern shot 40 percent in the second half, but Montana connected at a 55-percent clip from the field in the second stanza. The Griz buried 14 free throws in the final 20 minutes compared to 10 for the Eagles.
Montana outrebounded Eastern, 38-26, scoring 13 second-chance points to Eastern's three. Both teams committed 12 turnovers with each team scoring 14 points off turnovers.
Jordan Sullivan led all scorers with 24 points while Kellie Cole poured in 22.
The Eagles continue their road swing on Saturday, Jan. 11, against Montana State. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. PST.