Before Thursday's game even started, everyone's attention was already focused on Dara Zack.
In a pregame ceremony, the Saint Martin’s senior received a plaque for being the school’s all-time leading scorer in women’s basketball.
Then she became the focus of Montana State Billings.
But Zack slipped the Yellowjackets’ defense and scored a game-high 25 points to lead the Saints to a 63-55 victory.
“Some players you worry about something like that being a distraction,” Saints coach Tim Healy said about the pregame ceremony. “But not Dara. She’s so humble.”
Zack came into the game with 1,430 career points, five more than Beth Layton.
With the Saints clinging to a 56-55 lead with 1:56 remaining, Healy called a timeout and set up a play for Zack. She responded with a 3-pointer as the shot clock ticked down.
“She’s our go-to player,” Saints guard Roni Jo Mielke said. “We wanted to get the ball in her hands and let her go to work.”
Saint Martin’s seven-point halftime lead (33-26) was twice cut to one in the closing minutes, but baskets by Mielke and Zack kept the Saints ahead.
Saint Martin’s finished on a 7-0 run, blanking the Yellowjackets the final 1:56.
“It was a gutsy win,” Healy said. “It was a senior win. They all stepped up.”
Saint Martin’s three seniors – Mielke, Zack and Katie Hawkins – will play their final home game at 5:15 p.m. Saturday against Seattle Pacific.
Saint Martin’s covered for its 36.4 percent shooting (20-for-55) by forcing 23 turnovers and grabbing 31 rebounds.
“We knew we needed to rebound well,” Mielke said. “When we outrebound teams we do well.”
Aside from Zack, who was 8 of 19 from the field, the Saints were 12-for-36, 33 percent.
Saint Martin’s 60, Alaska Anchorage 54: The Saints rallied from a 10-point deficit to avenge last month’s seven-point loss.
“We got off to a very slow start,” Saints coach Keith Cooper said. “They’re a good team. They made their shots. We didn’t.”
Saint Martin’s trailed 21-11 early but finished the half on a 13-2 run to take a 24-23 halftime lead.
Blake Poole led the Saints with 17 points and eight rebounds. Roger O’Neill and Jeremy Green added 11 points each.
The Saints (13-12) have won back-to-back games after a six-game skid that included three overtime losses and a late tip-in loss.
“Our defense got us back into it,” Cooper said. “Our kids had nice composure down the stretch. They’ve learned how to close out close games because of those losses.”
Saint Martin’s led 51-44 on back-to-back lay-ins by Green and O’Neill. The Seawolves (18-8) then pulled to 53-52 on Mario Gill’s 3-point shot.
But the Saints finished the game with a 7-2 run to pull out the win.
SMU plays its last home game at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against Alaska Fairbanks.