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Last-second shot lifts Big Sky-leading Eastern Washington past Montana Lady Griz

Posted at 10:34 PM, Feb 29, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-01 12:35:13-05

MISSOULA — Jacinta Buckley's 3-pointer with 20 seconds to go proved to be the difference and completed the comeback for the Eastern Washington Eagles against the Montana Lady Griz on Thursday evening, as EWU won 56-55 in front of 3,495 fans at Dahlberg Arena.

The Big Sky Conference-leading Eagles improved to 24-5 overall and 14-2 in league play, one game ahead of Northern Arizona (21-8, 13-3) and three games ahead of Montana (19-8, 11-5) which still sits in third. With the win, EWU swept UM in the regular season.

Thursday's game was a grind-out battle between the two programs as Montana led 27-21 at halftime thanks to holding Eastern Washington to just 23.5% shooting from the field in the first two quarters. Montana struggled offensively in the first half as well but shot 35.7% to give the Lady Griz the six-point advantage.

The game picked up speed and went back and forth in the second half, and Montana led 49-44 after Carmen Gfeller knocked down a 3-pointer, and then 53-47 with 4:17 to go after a Gfeller layup.

A pair of layups from Jaleesa Lawrence brought the Eagles back within two before Jamie Loera tied it with two free throws with 1:34 to play.

Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw, who led UM with 15 points on the night, made it 55-53 UM with 1:12 to go on a driving layup, but after forcing a EWU miss, the Lady Griz turned it over on their next possession, which then eventually led to Buckley's game-winning 3.

Montana again turned it over on the next time up the court but was given life when Aaliyah Alexander missed two free throws and the Lady Griz got the ball with 2.8 seconds to play. Gfeller got one more look and a shot off in time, but it was off the mark, sending the Eagles into jubilation as they completed the comeback win.

Loera led EWU with 20 points and 10 rebounds. EWU finished shooting 31.9% from the floor and was 6 for 21 from deep. Montana shot 38.9% from the floor and went 7 for 18 from deep, but turnovers doomed the Lady Griz, as UM finished with 18 to EWU's eight, and the Eagles turned those turnovers into 18 points.

Mack Konig scored 11 points for Montana while Gfeller and Dani Bartsch each grabbed 12 rebounds.

Montana plays its final home game of the season on Saturday when the Lady Griz welcome Idaho to Missoula with tipoff scheduled for 2 p.m.