Sacramento, Calif. – The Eastern Washington women's basketball team opened a 22-point advantage in the first half then withstood a furious comeback from host Sacramento State to steal a key road win, 79-73, in Big Sky Conference play on Thursday, Feb. 13, in the Hornets Nest.
Eastern (12-10, 8-5 Big Sky) seemed poised for a runaway victory, opening up a 22-point lead late in the first half after shooting better than 50 percent from the field and knocking down seven three-pointers over the opening 20 minutes.
Sacramento State (15-7, 7-6 BSC) ended the first half on an 8-0 run to cut the Eagles' lead to 14 at the break before crawling all the way back in the second stanza to tie the score at 72-72 with 1:23 remaining. The Eagles were able to get defensive stops on the Hornets' next four possessions while making seven of eight free throws over the final minute to hang on for the win.
"Give Sacramento State a lot of credit for battling back," head coach Wendy Schuller said. "I don't think we were as aggressive in the early part of the second half as we were in the first half, and we didn't take care of the ball as well. As the half progressed, I thought we did a better job and the last five minutes was a solid effort on both ends. When we decide to lock down defensively, we can do special things."
The Eagles never trailed on the night and have now won four consecutive games. Eastern now owns sole possession of fourth place in the Big Sky standings after Idaho State fell at home to Southern Utah earlier tonight.
"It's important to have momentum in February," Schuller said. "We've figured some things out and players have grown into their roles. I think we're better defensively than we were one or two months ago, and we're rebounding better, also. I'm happy with our progress, but I still think there are things we can do to improve in order to reach our peak in March."
Junior Lexie Nelson had a game-high 23 points to lead four Eagles in double-figures. She made four three pointers and finished 8-of-12 from the field.
Redshirt sophomore Hayley Hodgins finished just shy of the 20-point plateau, extending her double-figure scoring streak to 12 games with a 19-point effort. She added eight points and a career-high four blocks to her impressive stat line.
Senior Aubrey Ashenfelter added 14 points and 10 rebounds, collecting her third double-double of the year. Freshman Bethany Montgomery chipped in a season-high 13 points off the bench, shooting 6-of-10 from the field and grabbing seven rebounds.
Freshman Jade Redmon led EWU with six assists as Eastern provided helpers on 21 of its 26 made buckets.
EWU shot 52.0 percent from the field on the night, its best shooting performance in a road game this season. The Eagles shot 43.8 percent from downtown, making all seven of its three-pointers in the first half. Eastern also went 20-of-26 from the charity stripe, shooting 17-of-21 in the second half.
Sacramento State shot just 32.4 percent from the field as Eastern's defense frustrated the Hornets' high-scoring attack. CSUS connected on just 23.3 percent of its shots from distance, making 10 of 43 attempts.
The Eagles outrebounded the hosts, 43-38, and held the Hornets to just 16 second chance points despite allowing 18 offensive rebounds. Eastern turned the ball over 24 times to the tune of 21 points for CSUS while Sacramento State committed 15 miscues.
Eastern simply could not miss in the early going, knocking down its first five shots to open up a 15-5 lead less than five minutes into the game. Hodgins buried consecutive three-pointers as the Eagles opened up a 12-point advantage, 23-11, with 13:24 on the clock, but the hosts answered with a quick 5-0 run to pull to within seven, 23-16, at the 11:30 mark.
The Eagles took off from there, reeling off a 19-4 run over the next eight minutes to open up a 22-point lead, 42-20, with 3:10 left in the half. Nelson had nine points in the stretch, burying two three-pointers and converting a three-point play. The Hornets were held scoreless for nearly six minutes as the hosts shot just 23 percent in the first half.
Sacramento State was able to get some momentum back before the break, ending the half on an 8-0 run to cut Eastern's lead to 14, 42-28, heading into the locker room.
The hosts continued to crawl back early in the second half, pulling to within two, 56-54, with 10:18 remaining. The Eagles answered with a run of their own, using four free throws from Redmon and a bucket from Nelson to go back up seven, 65-58, at the 6:55 mark.
The Hornets had one final run in them, scoring 12 of the next 19 points to even things at 72-72 with less that a minute left. Eastern drained its free throws down the stretch and came up with crucial defensive stops to hold off CSUS for the win.
Eastern concludes its weekend with a Big Sky counter at Northern Arizona on Saturday, Feb. 13. Tipoff is set for 5:30 p.m. PST and can be seen regionally on Fox Sports Arizona.