Story by Griz Information
Madi Schoening scored 12 first-quarter points on perfect 6-of-6 shooting to stake Montana to a big early lead, and the Lady Griz rode it all the way to the finish line, a 68-59 home win over Sacramento State on Thursday night at Dahlberg Arena that moved them back into a tie atop the Big Sky Conference.
Montana (8-8, 4-1 BSC) hit nine of its first 11 shots and led 25-8 after the first quarter, making as many shots in the period (12) as the Hornets (3-12, 1-3 BSC) attempted, thanks to 70.6 percent shooting.
Shut out in Montana’s last game, a 68-50 loss at Northern Colorado on Saturday, Schoening wasn’t going to be stopped on this night. She scored all six of her first-quarter baskets in the paint, blending a soft touch with some athletic finishes.
“She was the story of the night. Talk about setting the tone,” said UM coach Shannon Schweyen. “We talked in the locker room about coming out ready to go and getting off to a good start, and Madi came out absolutely on fire.
“She single-handedly took it to them and had some difficult finishes around the basket. She gave us a feeling that we could take a deep breath.”
By halftime it was 45-25, but no lead is ever safe against the Hornets, who get every second out of every 40-minute game with their changing pressure defensives and 3-point shooting.
Sacramento State had the lead down to 11 late in the third quarter before — who else? — Schoening scored four points sandwiched around a Sophia Stiles 3-pointer to build the lead back to 18, 60-42, going into the fourth.
That would be enough, but it was never comfortable, not with Montana going 3 for 13 in the final period and giving away five turnovers.
The Hornets got it down to eight, 65-57, with 1:13 left, but McKenzie Johnston, who had 10 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and four steals, scored off a Stiles feed to seal the win.
The Hornets outscored the Lady Griz 17-8 in the fourth quarter, 34-23 in the second half.
“You can never relax with these guys, not until the final buzzer. A 20-point lead is nothing, and we knew they were going to make some runs,” said Schweyen. “They are too good of a team not to. That’s why having that cushion from the get-go was so important.”
Schoening finished with a season-high 20 points and also grabbed eight rebounds, six on the offensive end.
Montana used a season-high 23 offensive rebounds to score 22 second-chance points. Sixteen of those boards came in the second half and were key to holding off Sacramento State’s late surge.
The Lady Griz shot just 27.3 percent in the second half but used those offensive rebounds to keep the ball out of the Hornets’ hands and to eat up clock by extending possessions.
Jace Henderson, who busted out of her recent slump with 6-of-10 shooting, scored 12 points and added 12 rebounds, her third double-double of the season. She matched Schoening with six offensive boards.
“Jace was her normal self, pulling out some unbelievable offensive rebounds to keep some possessions alive and give us some more chances to eat up more of the clock,” said Schweyen. “It was a gutsy effort on our part.”
Sacramento State was averaging more than 72 points entering the game, a good chunk of those coming from the hands of Hannah Friend, a first-year sophomore who transferred from Delaware.
Friend had 34- and 32-point scoring games during the nonconference and laid 55 last week in games against Idaho and Eastern Washington. On Thursday, Montana made her look like just another player.
She scored 11 quiet points on 4-of-12 shooting, with some of her baskets coming off loose-ball scrambles that were more from chance than anything the Lady Griz did wrong.
“We probably gave up some other things because we were so glued to her, but we wanted to make it difficult for her to get any good looks,” said Schweyen. “She certainly had to earn her 11.”
Maranne Johnston, the team’s second-leading scorer, had 13, but they came on 5-of-15 shooting. Montana limited the Hornets to 38.2 percent shooting and a 6-of-25 effort from the arc.
“The girls did a great job knowing their personnel and sticking with their shooters as best we could, but it’s hard. They penetrate, kick, penetrate, kick,” said Schweyen.
“We did a good job tonight of kind of holding them down. It was a great job by the girls on D.”
Stiles came off the bench to contribute eight points and seven rebounds. Caitlin Lonergan added seven points as Montana’s reserves outscored the opponent’s bench for the ninth straight game.
Montana was knocked out of first place on Saturday with its loss at Northern Colorado, but the Lady Griz are once again tied with the Bears (12-4, 4-1 BSC) after UNC lost 82-73 at Weber State on Thursday.
Weber State (11-4, 3-1 BSC) and Portland State (9-6, 3-1 BSC) are even with the leaders in the loss column, the Vikings in that position after they put an end to Montana State’s 31-game home-court winning streak with a 69-60 win in Bozeman on Thursday.
Montana will host Portland State, which has won six of seven and easily handled the Lady Griz twice last season, winning two games by a combined 43 points, on Saturday at 2 p.m.
“They are talented. Their zone is big and effective. It’s hard to pass around them, and even if you get it inside, it’s difficult to score,” said Schweyen.
In Thursday’s other game, Idaho State defeated North Dakota in Pocatello 57-46.