RENO, Nev. -- The 2016-17 season for the Eastern Washington women's basketball team ended in heartbreaking fashion on Friday (March 10), as the No. 4-seeded Eagles fell to No. 1 seed Montana State, 61-59, in the Big Sky Tournament Semifinals at the Reno Events Center.
It was a tight contest throughout, as the two squads combined for 13 lead changes and 10 ties on Friday. Montana State's Annika Lai sank a jumper with three seconds remaining to give the Bobcats a two-point lead. Eastern had one more chance to tie or win after a timeout advanced the ball on its side of the court, but the Eagles last-second shot only drew iron, as the Bobcats advance to tomorrow's Big Sky Championship game.
"I think the one thing we can walk away from this game is that we know we laid it all out there today," said head coach Wendy Schuller. "I thought our team played extremely hard for 40 minutes and stepped up and did big things when we needed them to. We've got young ladies who worked their tail off to put us in an opportunity to win, and we fell short. I'm extremely proud of our team for what they laid on the line today."
Neither team led by more than four points through the first two quarters of play, as the Eagles held a 29-25 advantage at the break.
EWU trailed by one at the 5:39 mark of the fourth quarter, after Montana State got a jumper from Big Sky Player of the Year Peyton Ferris. From there, the Eagles would go on a 10-2 run to take the biggest lead of the game at 45-38 with 1:43 remaining in the frame.
Montana State answered with a 7-0 run between the third and fourth quarters to tie the game back up at 45-45 with 8:01 left to play. The two teams battled back and forth from that point, as the lead changed seven times down the stretch.
With 31 seconds left to play, junior Delaney Hodgins knotted the contest up at 59-59 with her fourth 3-point field goal of the day. However, that would set the stage for Lai's heroics for Montana State.
Hodgins scored a game-high 18 points on Friday, as she ends her season on a 16-game double-digit scoring streak. She also scored double figures in all but one game this season.
Redshirt senior Tisha Phillips filled up the stat sheet in her final game at Eastern Washington, as she scored 11 points, pulled down nine rebounds and dished out seven assists. Phillips, who had just 51 career assists and 34 career steals entering her junior season, ends her EWU tenure ranked 10th on the program's all-time assists list with 289 and eighth on the career steals list with 161.
"Tisha and I's journey was a special one," said Schuller of Phillips. "It's been a love-hate relationship at times, and I'm sure she would be the first to tell you that. But, we've grown together and it's been my privilege to coach her because she is such a special player. Just a year ago, Tisha was not a point guard in our system, but we needed one last year, and I told her we needed her to play point and she said 'okay', You see where she ended up on our all-time assists list and she did really all of that in just two seasons. She is a really special player and I'm going to miss her a lot."
Fellow senior Ashli Payne recorded 10 points and pulled down four rebounds in her final game as an Eagle. Payne will leave Eastern Washington ranked third on the program's all-time rebound per game average list, as the junior college transfer ends her career with a 7.6 caroms per contest. She also leaves with an 11.5 points per game average for her career.
"It's not easy for a junior college transfer to come in because we run a pretty intricate system," said Schuller of Payne's impact. "She worked so hard to get on board right away and was able to come in and help us from day one. She plays so hard, and I'm not sure I've ever had a player play as hard as her.
"I love those two kids. What they've done for our program means a lot. They were willing to put it out there every day for us and were impactful players for us over the last two years."
Win-Loss Records: The Eagles end their season with an 18-13 overall record, while Montana State improves to 24-6 on the year.
What It Means: With today's loss, Eastern Washington concludes the 2016-17 season at 18-13 overall. Eastern Washington ended the regular season at 12-6 in the Big Sky Conference, as they've now won at least 10 league games in each of the past six seasons. They are the only Big Sky school to achieve the feat in that time frame.
Turning Point: In a game that featured 10 ties and 13 lead changes, it all came down to the final play of the game. Montana State hit a jumper to take a 61-59 lead with three seconds remaining. The Eagles had one last opportunity to tie or win with a three-pointer, but their final shot of the 2016-17 season was off the mark.
Key Stats: Free throws, or the lack thereof, played a significant role in today's final result. Eastern Washington went just 2-of-4 from the charity stripe, while Montana State converted on 11-of-14 shots from the line.
Montana State held a 20-4 advantage in points off the bench. Freshman Uriah Howard provided all the bench scoring for the Eagles on Friday.
Top Performers: Junior Delaney Hodgins scored a game-high 18 points and pulled down seven rebounds. She hit a game-high four 3-point field goals in her final game of the year.
Redshirt senior Tisha Phillips went out on a high note, as she narrowly missed a triple-double in her final game at Eastern Washington. The fifth-year senior scored 11 points, tied her season-high in rebounds with nine and dished out a game-high seven assists. The point guard had a 7-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in her final game as an Eagle.
Senior Ashli Payne scored 10 points and pulled down four rebounds in her final game as an Eagle.
Notables: Eastern Washington ends the 2016-17 season at 18-13. It marks the sixth-straight winning season for the Eagles. It also marks the third-straight season with 18-or-more wins, as the Eagles had won 21 and 20 games over the last two seasons.
This year's 18 wins ties for the seventh-most wins in a single season in program history at the NCAA Division I level. This year's squad ties them with the 1986-87 win, a team that won the school's only Big Sky Conference Title to-date.
Today's 18-point performance from junior Delaney Hodgins moved her into fifth on Eastern's all-time scoring list with 1,401. She becomes just the fifth player in program history to surpass the 1,400-point plateau, and she is now just 465 points away from breaking her sister Hayley's all-time scoring record of 1,865 points.
Junior Delaney Hodgins ends the season scoring 552 points. It is the fourth-most points scored by an individual in a single-season. With Delaney moving into fourth on that list, a Hodgins sister owns three of the top five single-season scoring performances in Eastern Washington history, as Hayley holds the record with 680 points scored in 2015-16 and her 538 points scored in 2014-15 move down to fifth.
Senior Tisha Phillips' seven assists today give her 289 career assists. She leaves Eastern ranked 10th on the all-time assists list at Eastern Washington. She will also end her career with 161 steals, which is the eighth-most in program history.
Keep up with all the latest Eastern Washington women's basketball information throughout the offseason via social media. Follow @EWUWBB on Twitter and Instagram and be sure to follow EWU Women's Basketball on Facebook.