Cedar City, Utah – After erasing a double-digit deficit in the first half, sophomore Hayley Hodgins' last-second shot rimmed out as the Eastern Washington women's basketball team fell to Southern Utah, 62-61, in a Big Sky contest at Centrum Arena Saturday, Jan. 25.
Down by as many as 14 points in the first half, Eastern (8-9, 4-4 Big Sky) pulled to within one at the half before taking a 44-43 lead with 13:44 left to play. Southern Utah (11-6, 5-3 BSC) would regain the lead on two free throws at the 3:56 mark, but the Eagles refused to go away, pulling to within one three times down the stretch.
After a lay-up from junior Lexie Nelson at the 2:07 mark, the Thunderbirds secured a big offensive rebound before converting their next attempt to go up three, 62-59, with 1:46 remaining. Senior Laura Hughes did the same on the other end, grabbing a miss and laying up the ball to bring EWU back to within one, 62-61, with 50 seconds left.
Eastern would come up with a big stop on SUU's next possession, guaranteeing the Eagles a final chance to win the game with 17 seconds left. After Nelson's lay-up was blocked out of bounds with three ticks remaining, head coach Wendy Schuller called timeout to draw up a baseline out of bounds play. Hodgins threw the ball into Hughes on the block then got it right back, but her contested jumper was off the mark as time expired.
"This is a very tough loss to swallow," Schuller said. "I liked that we fought back and gave ourselves a chance to win down the stretch. Southern Utah is a well-coached and tough team, and they execute and play hard. I thought we didn't put ourselves in a good position in the first 10 minutes, and they were the aggressor and took it to us."
Hughes led all scorers with 16 points, shooting 6-of-9 from the field and making four of five free throws. Nelson added 13 points, making 5-of-6 free throws as her streak of consecutive made free throws ended at 24.
Hodgins chipped in 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Freshman Bethany Montgomery had a season-high 11 points off the bench, knocking down a pair of three pointers and collecting three steals.
Freshman Jade Redmon led the Eagles with five rebounds and five assists.
It was a back and forth affair in the early going as neither team was able to gain much separation. Hodgins scored Eastern's first four points to give the Eagles a quick 4-2 lead, but the hosts responded with a 7-2 run over the next five minutes, going up 9-6 at the 13:02 mark. Hughes converted inside to cut the Thunderbirds' lead to one, 9-8, but Southern Utah scored the next nine points, taking a 10-point lead with 9:44 on the clock.
A fastbreak jumper from Hodgins snapped a four-minute scoring drought for the Eagles but SUU kept attacking, going up by 14, 24-10, at the 6:55 mark. Montgomery ignited Eastern with a three-pointer with 6:31 on the clock before converting a fastbreak lay-up to bring EWU to within nine, 24-15. Freshman Marly Anderson buried an elbow jumper with 5:47 on the clock, followed by a pair of free throws from Nelson.
Eastern's run continued as Anderson knocked down one of two free throws, cutting the host's lead to four, 24-20, with 3:54 left in the half. All told, the Thunderbirds were held scoreless for nearly eight minutes. Nelson would make a pair of free throws with 12 seconds left, sending the Eagles into the locker room down one, 30-29.
Despite its slow start, Eastern shot 46 percent from the field in the first half while Southern Utah connected at a 35-percent clip. The Thunderbirds made 11 of 13 free throws in the opening stanza while EWU was 7-of-9 from the charity stripe.
Southern Utah opened the second half on a 4-0 run to take a five-point advantage, 34-29. After Nelson went 1-of-2 from the line, Hodgins finished a reverse lay-up that cut the Thunderbirds lead to two, 34-32, with 18:21 on the clock. Each time the hosts scored, the Eagles came right back to remain within striking distance, eventually taking the lead for the first time since early in the first half on lay-up from Hughes with 13:44 remaining.
Senior Aubrey Ashenfelter buried a jumper in the paint with just over five minutes left to put Eastern up two, 57-55, but five straight points from Southern Utah gave the hosts a lead they would never relinquish.
Eastern shot 44 percent from the field for the game, making just four of 19 three-pointers. SUU connected at a 37-percent clip, knocking down three triples off 15 attempts. EWU turned the ball over 19 times while the Thunderbirds committed 15 miscues.
Southern Utah won the battle on the boards, 38-33, scoring 16 second-chance points compared to Eastern's three.
Hailey Mandelko led the hosts with 13 points while Desiree Jackson added 12.
Eastern continues its road swing next Thursday, Jan. 25, at Big Sky foe North Dakota. Tipoff is set for 5 p.m. PST.