A pair of 3-pointers from MacKenzie Taylor that just beat the shot clock, a pretty pull-up jumper outside the free-throw line from Brooke Paulson, and some tough post play off the bench from Elin Johansson — this certainly did not look like the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s lowest-scoring offense.
The Saint Martin’s University women’s basketball team snapped a four-game losing streak, getting a strong offensive performance in the first half before holding off a late rally to beat Montana State University Billings, 63-54, on Thursday night in GNAC play at Marcus Pavilion.
“I thought for the first 30 minutes, that was the best we’ve played all year,” Saints coach Tim Healy said. “We did it on both ends of the court. Defensively, we frustrated them and offensively, we executed. We let them back in towards the end, but I’m very pleased with tonight.”
Liz Mills scored 15 points for the Saints (5-11 overall, 2-6 GNAC), while Megan Wiedeman and Krista Stabler both scored 10 points and played key roles down the stretch.
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Leading 44-22 with 13 minutes to play, the Yellowjackets (10-8, 2-6) used a 16-1 run to get back into the game, hitting 11 out of 13 shots, including 5 for 5 on 3s, during one stretch to trim the 22-point deficit down to 57-54 with 11/2 minutes to play.
The Saints responded late, however, as Stabler scored seven points in the final 3:45, hitting a clutch 3-pointer and making down a pair of late free throws and Wiedeman, who also grabbed 10 rebounds, connected on a pair of late baskets to help preserve the win.
“They made a run,” Healy said, “but the best thing about tonight was we answered the call. Every time they hit a shot late, we came back and hit one of our own. That gives you confidence. We haven’t been in this position too often this year (playing with a big lead). We’ll learn from this.”
A quick 6-0 start combined with a strong defensive effort which held the Yellowjackets to six points through the opening nine minutes of the game helped the Saints grab a 32-19 lead at the break.
Nearly half of the Saints points in the first half came from their bench as reserves Hannah Reynolds, Taylor and Johansson combined for 15 points.
Johansson also had seven rebounds at the intermission and her three-point play with 3:52 left in the first half gave SMU its largest lead of the opening 20 minutes, 29-15.
Prior to Johansson’s play in the paint, the Saints got 3-pointers from Taylor and Reynolds during an 11-2 run which turned a game that was briefly tied into a double-digit deficit for the Yellowjackets.
“The bench was huge for us in the first half,” Healy said. “Krista carried us at times.”
The Saints had only five turnovers at the half, and on the rare occasion they were sloppy with the ball, Montana State was unable to take advantage, failing to turn the turnovers into points.
The start of the second half was almost a carbon copy for SMU as the Saints opened with a 12-3 run to double up MSUB, 44-22, with 13 minutes to play.
Wiedeman, who was scoreless in the first half, scored six points during the run. Her putback 31/2 minutes into the second half resulted in a time out by Yellowjackets coach Kevin Woodin, who replaced all five of his players with subs.
After Wiedeman hit a pair of free throws to cap the run three minutes later, Woodin once again pulled all five players from the court.
The second time worked, lighting a fire under Montana State, which outscored SMU, 16-1, over the next five minutes to trail, 45-38.
Up next for the Saints will be No. 8 Seattle Pacific (14-1) at home on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.