Eastern shoots 58 percent in second half to overcome deficit, as head coach Wendy Schuller earns 150th win at EWU
It was a 40-minute grind, but the Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team fought through to the end to pick up an important 75-72 win over Big Sky newcomer North Dakota on Thursday (Jan. 17) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.
With the win, Eastern snaps a three-game losing skid in conference play to improve to 4-3 in league, and 8-8 overall. North Dakota drops to 7-9 on the season and 2-5 in the Big Sky. In addition, EWU head coach Wendy Schuller earned her 150th win at Eastern. The 12-year head coach now has a career-record of 150-188 (.444).
After shooting 33 percent in the first half, EWU went into the locker room trailing 34-29. Within the first three minutes of the second half, North Dakota had extended its lead to 11, but a big 3-pointer from EWU’s leading scorer Lexie Nelson sparked an inspiring Eagle comeback.
“It was not always pretty tonight,” said Schuller. “I don’t think we played great in terms of offensive execution, and we had still had breakdowns defensively, but in terms of a gutsy, warrior-like performance, I could not be prouder of this team.”
Trailing by double-digits at the 17:03 mark, Eastern went on a 12-1 run to knot the score at 47. EWU was able to tie it four more times, but did not earn its first lead of the second half until just under three minutes remained on the game clock.
North Dakota’s 6-5 center Emily Evers converted a layup with 90 seconds to go, giving her team a one-point advantage. But EWU answered when senior Carrie Ojeda fed redshirt-freshman Hayley Hodgins on a back cut for an uncontested layup. The Eagles went on to make 3-of-4 free throws in the final 20 seconds, and UND’s desperation three as time expired was off the mark.
“In the second half, we finally figured out places we had been seeing all game long that we could exploit,” explained Schuller. “Some things we have worked on for a long time came to flourish. We got some baskets going to the hoop and we made some plays that got us momentum. But in the end, it was a lot of heart and soul.”
Eastern was playing without two of its main post contributors in sophomore forward Melissa Williams and junior center Laura Hughes, who were both injured in Eastern’s previous Big Sky contest at Sacramento State. Along with a 6-2 stature for both players, Williams and Hughes average a combined 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Eagles.
“We were undermanned in terms of the post,” said Schuller. “We were missing two players who have been pretty significant for us. But we had some kids step up. Kayleigh Ryan played well for us, and I thought Carrie Ojeda was a beast tonight. She really had to hold down the fort for us in the paint. For her to stay out of foul trouble and to get knocked around like a rag doll at times was impressive. She just battled.”
Ojeda was just two rebounds shy of her fifth double-double on the year, as she finished with a season-high 17 points and eight rebounds. She also dished out a team-high six assists, which marked a new career high for the veteran from Tacoma, Wash.
As she has done seven times already this season, Nelson led EWU in points with 19. She scored 13 of them in the second half, hitting 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. Nelson was also a perfect 6-of-6 from the free throw line.
As a team, EWU was 19-of-22 from the charity stripe - a big part of what kept them in the game. The Eagles also managed to force 23 UND turnovers, which they converted into 21 points on the other end.
Junior Aubrey Ashenfelter tallied a career-high five steals, to go along with eight points and five rebounds.
Hodgins, who made several big plays for the Eagles coming off the bench, had her third-consecutive double-digit performance. She tied her career-high, set last week at NAU, with 16 tallies on 5-of-10 shooting. Hodgins was 2-of-4 from downtown and 4-of-6 from the line. She played a career-high 33 minutes in the Thursday night dog fight.
“Hayley has arrived in a lot of ways,” said Schuller. “She really broke out during the last road trip. Hayley is a player we felt was always capable, and now she is to the point where she has more confidence in herself, the team has confidence in her and we are confident in her. She is solid because she can shoot the three and also put it on the floor. She is just good about being patient and taking what comes.”
Eastern continues its busy week of three games in six days on Saturday (Jan. 19) when it takes on Northern Colorado at 2:05 p.m. at Reese Court. The Bears are 4-2 in conference play after a 67-42 win at Portland State on Thursday. The Eagles will be looking to snap a four-game losing streak against UNC.