NAU women rally late but fall to Montana State

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The Northern Arizona women’s basketball shot a season-best 88.2 percent from the free-throw line, but a second-half rally fell just short Saturday night in an 80-72 loss to Montana State.

The Lumberjacks fell to 0-2 in Big Sky play.

"They made a nice run in the second half and we didn’t have an answer for it," said NAU coach Sue Darling. "We’re still turning the ball over too much and we’re missing too many layups but I thought we played better tonight than we did on Thursday night. We started the game better and we had much better overall effort."

The first half was an offensive struggle for both teams as neither squad shot better than 35 percent heading into halftime. The Bobcats carried a 30-27 lead into the intermission in large part due to NAU’s 16 first half turnovers. Neither team led by more than five points and they exchanged the lead on nine occasions with 10 ties in an evenly played first 20 minutes.

In spite of their miscues, a strong defensive effort and eight points by junior Raven Anderson kept the Lumberjacks step-by-step with the Bobcats going into the second half. MSU maintained a narrow edge until back-to-back buckets by freshman Rene Coggins and senior Amanda Frost trimmed NAU’s deficit to 44-42 with 12:38 to play. A corresponding 10-0 Montana State run pushed its lead out to 54-42 and the Bobcats led by as much as 14 with just under seven minutes to play.

Facing their biggest deficit of the game, the Lumberjacks turned up the pressure as Frost and freshman Brittani Lusain began to will them back into the game. The pair combined for 21 points over the next five minutes which got the Lumberjacks to 72-68 with 1:58 remaining. Despite a valiant effort though, the Bobcats made enough free throws down the stretch to withstand NAU’s furious rally for their first conference win.

"We only had six turnovers in the second half and that made a huge difference," Darling said. "But at the end of the day, they went on a run and we were playing catch up the entire time."

Lusain recorded her second double-double of the season as she grabbed a career-best 13 rebounds to go with 16 points in addition to four steals. Frost exploded in the second half for 21 of her game-high 27 points for her fifth straight 20-plus point game. Lusain (10-for-11) and Frost (13-for-14) combined to miss just two free throws in the team’s excellent showing at the line as they repeatedly got to the rim during NAU’s late rally.

For the game, the Lumberjacks shot 30-of-34 from the charity stripe, which helped offset shooting just 33.9 percent from the field. They outrebounded the Bobcats, 44-43, but did not hit a three-pointer for the first time this season and allowed MSU to shoot 48.6 percent in the second half – 41.4 percent for the game.