Not even a nine-point lead late in the fourth quarter could send the Montana women’s basketball team to its first Big Sky Conference victory of the season, not with Peyton Ferris on the other side.
Ferris scored 27 points, including a big 3-pointer as part of a 9-0 run at the end of regulation that sent the game to overtime, and Montana State outlasted the Lady Griz in the extra period to win 75-69 at Dahlberg Arena on Saturday afternoon.
After McKenzie Johnston, who scored a season-high 17 points, put Montana up 60-51 with 2:34 left in the fourth quarter, Hannah Caudill sparked the Bobcats’ rally with a deep 3-pointer just eight seconds later.
Taylor Goligoski missed a 3-pointer at the other end that could have pushed the lead back to nine and probably would have ended it. That would turn out to be the final shot of the fourth quarter for Montana, which had three turnovers and no looks at the basket in the final two minutes.
Ferris hit from 3-point range on Montana State’s next possession, and Delaney Junkermier converted a three-point play with 59 seconds left to even the score at 60.
A Lady Griz turnover with less than 30 seconds remaining gave Montana State the final shot, but Caudill’s runner was off the mark at the buzzer.
It didn’t matter. With all the momentum on their side, the Bobcats scored the opening six points of the overtime, making their run 15-0, and never allowed the Lady Griz to make it a one-possession game as Montana State won in Missoula for just the seventh time in 52 games.
“It would have been an incredible one to pull out,” said Shannon Schweyen, who was involved in her 70th Montana-Montana State game but her first as head coach. “I was really proud of the effort we gave. We played really hard.”
It was the things that will keep a coach up at night — turnovers and missed free throws — that cost Montana the game. The Lady Griz turned it over 18 times and missed 11 free throws, eight in the second half and overtime.
“Those are the little things in a tight game that make the difference,” Schweyen said. “We put some of those (free throws) away, and it’s over in regulation. That’s been our Achilles, and it certainly was a big factor tonight. Free throws killed us.”
With North Dakota winning at Northern Colorado earlier on Saturday, a win was going to move Montana State (16-5, 9-2 BSC) within a game of the Big Sky’s co-leaders. The Bobcats got what they needed, but the Lady Griz didn’t make it easy.
Montana State led for most of regulation but never comfortably. Up 30-27 at the half, the Bobcats could extend their lead to no more than four in the third quarter, and that set Montana up to appear to take control in the fourth.
The Lady Griz hit nine of their first 12 shots in the period, and that allowed them to turn a 47-45 deficit into a 60-51 lead in just five-and-a-half minutes of inspired basketball. They went up nine on Johnston’s basket in the paint with 2:34 left.
Goligoski and Johnston scored 15 of Montana’s 19 points in the fourth quarter.
“We had good ball games from those guys,” said Schweyen. “They both played great. When Taylor gets cooking, she can score like Ferris. When she starts creating stuff, it can be hard to stop her.”
Maybe Montana State comes back if Caudill doesn’t answer with a three just seconds after Johnston made it 60-51, maybe the Bobcats don’t, but it was probably the biggest shot of the game for MSU.
She dribbled up the court, came to a stop feet behind the arc and put an end to Montana’s surge. The Bobcats were not going to go away quietly.
“When Caudill came down and hit that long three, that was the start of it,” said Schweyen. “Then Ferris banged a three on the wing. As we got more and more tired, our effort on her dropped a little bit. She was getting touches too easily, and she is tough to stop once she catches it.”
Junkermier tied it by finishing through contact with 59 second left.
Montana State’s four starters who are upperclassmen combined to score 62 of the Bobcats’ 75 points.
“They are experienced, and they stepped up in big moments and made big plays,” said Schweyen. “They made some hustle plays down the stretch, and experienced teams do that.”
With the game tied at 60 after Junkermier’s and-one, Montana tried to get the ball inside to Emma Stockholm, but she couldn’t collect it cleanly, and Ferris came up with the steal. It was the third turnover in less than 70 seconds for the Lady Griz.
“You can look back and wish you had that one last possession. You can’t have turnovers like that down the stretch. It was unfortunate because it was such a great atmosphere for these kids,” said Schweyen. “But I feel like they can walk away like they gave it their all.”
Goligoski’s 19 points, 15 of which came after halftime, were her most since before Christmas. Johnston added 17 and Schoening finished with 11 points, a team-high eight rebounds and a pair of veteran-like hustle plays.
With her teammates struggling from the free throw line, Schoening once in the first quarter and once in the third grabbed misses on perfectly timed jumps and scored on putbacks, the type of plays the season-high crowd of 3,223 fully appreciated.
“Those were big hustle plays by Madi and huge inspirational plays. The crowd loved that. Those were just pure effort on her part,” said Schweyen. “She always gives us everything she’s got when she’s out there.”
In addition to Ferris’s 27 points, she added a game-high 12 rebounds and five blocks. Senior teammate Riley Nordgaard added her own double-double with 12 points and 10 boards. Junkermier had 13 points, Caudill 10.
Montana (3-19, 0-11 BSC) will host Southern Utah and Northern Arizona at home next week.