If a team was due for a win against the Montana State University-Northern women’s basketball team, it was certainly the Carroll College Fighting Saints.
For as much as the Carroll women’s program has accomplished in recent years, the Saints were suffering through a long losing streak against their rivals at Northern. But on Thursday night at the newly-renovated Armory Gymnasium, Carroll spoiled the party as the Saints edged the Skylights 56-50 in the Frontier Conference opener for both teams.
Carroll rode the momentum of a long-range 3-pointer by sophomore Bailey Snelling, which came with 1:23 left in the contest, and the Saints finished the game at the foul line. The Skylights, who played a great defensive game against the high-powered Saints, missed golden opportunities down the stretch, including giving the ball right back to the saints on a costly turnover after Snelling’s three. Northern also went a dismal 7-of-15 from the free-throw-line with many key misses coming in the crucial final 10 minutes of the game.
“That was a big shot at a big time in the game,” Northern head coach Chris Mouat said of Snelling’s three. “We defended it well but she stepped back and knocked it down. It was a tough shot and one that hurt.
“But good teams respond to big shots, and we didn’t do that tonight,” Mouat continued. “We didn’t play our best after that shot and that hurt us as much as the shot itself did.”
The Skylights and Saints waged a great defensive war Thursday night, and the numbers told the story. Northern made just five triples and shot just 34 percent from the field, thanks in large part to a smothering Carroll defense. And the Saints didn’t fare much better against a daunting MSU-N defense, as Carroll shot just 37 percent from the field, made only four trey’s and missed 11 free throws.
“It was a grinder of a game,” Mouat said. “Both teams played
really hard. I thought our defensive game plan was good. We did really well against a lot of what they (Saints) ran. We were ready for it. But in the end, for as good a defense as we played, we fouled them way too much and we’ve got to learn to play smarter. We put them on the line too many times, and on the other end of that, we missed too many free throws, and too many open shots tonight.
“In this league, to win games, you have to shoot the ball a lot better than we did tonight.”
For a time, Northern’s offense was clicking. Jordan Bruursema and Nikki Tresch hit back-to-back three’s to start the game, and a later three by Kassie Barta helped MSU-N to a nice, 21-14 lead early on. The Skylights were also getting great production in the paint by Laci Keller, before foul trouble started to hamper her play.
But as well as MSU-N played early on, Carroll capped the half with the first of three triples by Snelling, and led 28-26 at intermission.
From there, the game was a back-and-forth struggle – the type of game fans have come to expect when the Skylights and Saints hook up.
Northern had the lead on six different occasions in the final 20 minutes, and the Skylights found themselves ahead 48-47 with 3:30 to go after back-to-back lay-ins by Bruursema and Kylee Denham.
“We had opportunities to build the lead in both halves tonight,” Mouat said. “But we just didn’t shoot it well enough, and we didn’t make enough smart plays when we did have the lead to ever extend it. And that’s disappointing because you have to take advantage of those situations against good teams like Carroll. Especially when you’re at home. And we just weren’t able to do that tonight.”
Carroll’s Joey O’Neil gave the Saints the lead for good at the 1:58 mark, and Snelling’s dagger came just a few seconds later. In all, the Saints outscored the Skylights 9-2 after Bruursema had given them the lead with just over three minutes to go.
“Credit Carroll,” Mouat said. “They made more big plays than we did and played much better than we did down the stretch. That’s the bottom line really, they are a very good team and they made the plays when it mattered the most tonight.”
Keller led the way for Northern with 12 points and five rebounds. But she and Bruursema had to sit significant minutes due to fouls, and not having Maurisha McKissic, who was out with an injury, hampered Northern’s ability to stay consistent in the post against a tall and lengthy Carroll squad. Bruursema finished with 10 points, including two triples, as well as a game-high seven boards. Tresch also hit two three’s and scored 10 points, but Carroll’s defense held her six points under her season average. Denham added seven points and played great defense on Carroll star Megan Patterson, while Taylor Cummings scored five points and grabbed six boards before fouling out.
The Saints, who improved to 4-2 overall, got a game-high 15 from Torrie Cahill, while Snelling added 14 and O’Neil scored 10. Northern and Carroll will meet again Feb. 9 in Helena.
Meanwhile, MSU-N not only fell to 0-1 in the Frontier and 3-3 overall, but the Skylights will now have to regroup with three tough road games next weekend in Oregon. MSU-N will return home for two games against Walla Walla Dec. 13-15.
“We just have a lot of growing still to do,” Mouat said. “We saw a lot of areas we have to get better at tonight. Carroll played really hard and made big plays when they had to. But we also shot ourselves in the foot too many times, and that shows we have a lot of growing still to do.”
Caught at the end
Skylights are 0-1 in the
Frontier, 3-3 overall
Carroll 56, Skylights 50
CC – Joey O’Neil 5-9 0-0 10, Megan Patterson 2-8 1-1 5, Bailey Snelling 4-8 3-6 14, Torrie Cahill 4-14 6-12 15, Katie Estey 0-1 1-2 1, Jordan Pfau 1-1 0-0 2, Kalee Junkermeier 0-4 3-4 3, Megan O’Connel 1-1 0-0 2, Jordan Bagley 2-5 0-0 4. Totals: 19-51 14-25 56.
MSU-N – Jordan Bruursema 4-11 0-0 10, Laci Keller 6-10 0-0 12, Nikki Tresch 2-12 4-4 10, Taylor Cummings 3-5 0-5 6, Kylee Denham 3-8 1-2 7, Kassie Barta 1-6 1-5 3, Kacie McKeon 0-2 2-2 2, Rachelle Bennett 0-2 0-2 0, Michaela Howe-Cobb 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 19-55 7-15 50.
Halftime: Carroll 28-26. 3-pointers: MSU-N 5-19 (Bruursema 2, Tresch 2, Barta 1), CC 4-8 (Snelling 3, Cahill 1). Rebounds: MSU-N 32 (Bruursema 7, Cummings 6), CC 35 (Cahill 7). Fouls: MSU-N 20, CC 14. Fouled out: Cummings.