By Montana Sports Information
Montana fell behind by 12 in the first quarter and was down 15 at the half, and the deficit was too much to overcome as the Lady Griz lost 54-46 to Stephen F. Austin on Saturday in Nacogdoches, Texas.
After playing even with the Ladyjacks in the third quarter, Montana (2-6) held Stephen F. Austin (7-2) without a field goal in the fourth and had the ball trailing 44-40, but four would be as close as the Lady Griz would get as SFA went 10 for 12 from the line in the final quarter.
“I was extremely proud of the way we came back,” said coach Shannon Schweyen. “I thought the girls really battled tonight. They should feel proud of their effort. I feel like we made some strides.”
Montana never led in the game and allowed Stephen F. Austin to jump out to first-quarter leads of 13-2 and 16-4. The Lady Griz made just one basket in the opening quarter on 10 attempts and trailed 16-5 at the first break.
The team’s first flash of offense — a 3-pointer by McKenzie Johnston and a three-point play by Emma Stockholm, who scored a season-high 12 points off the bench — brought Montana within 18-13 midway through the second quarter.
But it was short-lived. Stephen F. Austin held Montana to one basket the final five minutes of the second quarter and took a 30-15 lead at halftime. The Lady Griz were 5 for 22 (.227) at the break with nine turnovers.
“We talked in the locker room about competing,” said Schweyen. “I thought we were just going through the motions in the first half. It looked like we were just happy to be playing.
“I thought the girls really responded the in second half and competed a lot more. It’s a lot more fun when you start knocking down a few more shots. It makes you feel like things are going a little bit better, and that transferred to the defensive end.”
And in a big way. After shooting 46.2 percent in the first half, the Ladyjacks made just four field goals the entire second half, none in the fourth quarter. They were forced to become a 3-point shooting team, which isn’t a strength. Sixteen of their 26 shots in the second half were from outside the arc.
“I was really encouraged by how hard and how smart we played in the zone,” said Schweyen. “I thought we created a lot of frustrations for them. We started competing every possession.”
Led by McKenzie Johnston, who scored eight second-half points, 11 for the game, Montana used stops on the defensive end and an improved shooting percentage on the offensive end to slowly fight its way back into the game.
Three-pointers by Stockholm, Sierra Anderson and Gabi Harrington cut what had been a 35-15 lead down to 41-28 late in the third quarter.
Then the fun started. Harrington opened the fourth quarter with another triple from the left corner, Anderson hit from the top of the key, and two free throws by Taylor Goligoski at the 3:19 mark made it 44-40.
After another Stephen F. Austin miss — the Ladyjacks went 0 for 12 for the quarter — Anderson had a good look at a three, and Goligoski got into the paint for a jumper, but neither would fall.
Free throws put the Ladyjacks back up 48-40. And an answer: Johnston got to the basket twice to make it 48-44 with 1:15 remaining.
Montana forced a miss at the other end with 54 seconds left, which provided one final opening. But an offensive rebound by Stephen F. Austin resulted in another trip to the line, and that was it.
“We had a couple of bad breaks. There were a couple of things that didn’t go our way at a key time. Otherwise it might have come down to a one-possession game,” said Schweyen.
“We had to foul, and they made their free throws down the stretch. But for the first time on the road, I feel like we really responded and got it going.”
Stephen F. Austin won its sixth straight game by forcing Montana into 16 turnovers and converting those into 15 points, but the Lady Griz actually did a solid job with the ball.
The Ladyjacks entered the game averaging more than 13 steals and forcing more than 26 turnovers per game. They had just six steals against the Lady Griz.
“We did a pretty fair job against the press,” Schweyen said. “For having young kids out there, we took pretty good care of the ball.”
And in another good sign, Montana almost pulled out a win without much offensive production from Goligoski. The team’s leading scorer was held to four points on 1-of-9 shooting.
The bench scored 27 points, the most since the Massachusetts game, and then there was Johnston, who got the start at the point. She was 4 for 29 the previous five games, but she was 5 for 8 on Saturday to hopefully break out of her offensive funk.
She also didn’t turn the ball over while playing a season-high 33 minutes.
“It was nice to see Kenz have a good one tonight,” said Schweyen. “She was really poised out there.”
Madi Schoening had four points, a team-high four assists, three rebounds and two steals. Jace Henderson grabbed a team- and career-high eight rebounds.
Stevi Parker had an 11-point, 12-rebound double-double to lead Stephen F. Austin.
Montana will try to snap its four-game losing streak when it hosts Rocky Mountain at 7 p.m. on Monday at Dahlberg Arena.