(Montana State release)
BOZEMAN – For thirty-nine minutes and 39-seconds Montana State played catch-up with Omaha on Sunday afternoon in Worthington Arena.
The final 21-seconds belonged to Bobcat junior Oliana Squires.
Squires’ three-pointer with 21-seconds remaining gave the Bobcats its first lead of the game. Her two free throws with 12-seconds left gave MSU the lift it needed to secure a 59-56 win over the Mavericks in front of 1,489 fans.
Squires, who finished with a game-high 19 points, scored 11 in the fourth quarter as the Bobcats overcame a 14-point deficit in the final ten minutes.
“Oliana’s game was not only amazing from a scoring standpoint, but from a distributing standpoint as well,” said MSU head coach Tricia Binford. “And, her spark on the defensive end helped create offense off stops and steals. For as flat as we came out, we hit some big shots and got the stops needed when it mattered the most.”
Montana State (5-4) struggled finding any kind of offensive flow in the first half. Omaha (5-6) built a 17-5 advantage in the opening quarter, hitting 53.6 percent from the field, while MSU went two-of-16 from the floor.
The Mavericks had a 14-point lead in the second stanza, but the Bobcats were able to whittle the margin down to 30-23 at intermission.
MSU’s leading scorer Claire Lundberg was one-of-ten in the opening half and the Bobcats were an icy two-of-18 from long distance. The Bobcats were able to keep within striking distance thanks to the efforts of Blaire Braxton on the boards, especially on the offensive end.
“Blaire made an impact in the first half with her rebounding and energy,” Binford said. “We were able to get their lead down under double-figures heading into halftime. If someone told me we’d be two-of-18 from the three-point line it would’ve been hard to believe.”
Omaha built its largest lead of the contest at 46-31 with just over two-minutes remaining in the third quarter following a layup by Josie Filer. A Lundberg triple followed by a Squires layin off a touch pass via Tori Martell pulled MSU to within ten points.
However, the Mavericks received a layup from Romekia Wallace at the buzzer and opened the final quarter with a Filer layin to take a 50-36 with 9:44 remaining.
Over the next five minutes, Lundberg and Squires each posted five points to get the Bobcats to within 54-46 at the 4:52 media timeout. Coming out of the huddle, the Bobcats rattled off an 8-0 run sparked by three points from Gabby Mocchi. Madeline Smith’s layin with 1:39 left evened the score at 54-all.
With one-minute remaining, UNO missed a pair of free throws, but pulled down the offensive board. Following a Maverick time out, Smith stepped in front of an Alicia Mountain pass to setup the final 21-seconds.
“It was kind of our first test with Claire (Lundberg) being cold,” Binford said. “We are so reliant on her offensive production, but the fact that we found ways in the second half to get a little bit better ball movement and tempo and action is a testament to our perseverance. Our fourth quarter fight and come back on the defensive end was nice to see.”
Squires finished the game with a career-high eight assists and seven rebounds. Lundberg ended with 12 points on four-of-19 shooting. As a team, MSU shot 37 percent from the field, but connected on eight-of-11 in the fourth frame to notch the come-from-behind win.
The Bobcats held a slim 36-33 advantage under the glass. Braxton paced Montana State with a game-high eight rebounds, including six offensive boards.
Omaha was led by Filer with 15 points, while Claire Killian and Sophie Johnston added 14 and ten, respectively.
Montana State will host South Dakota State on Tuesday, Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. in Worthington Arena.