Reno, NV -- The last time that the Montana State Bobcats won the Big Sky tournament in 1993, head coach Tricia Binford was a sophomore in college.
And now, 24 years later, Binford, in her 12th year leading the program, has led the Bobcats to the NCAA Tournament. The number one-seeded Bobcats, with a combined 39 points from seniors Peyton Ferris and Riley Nordgaard, defeated the number six-seeded Idaho State Bengals 62-56 on Saturday at the Reno Events Center in Reno, NV.
Binford spoke highly of her two senior stars as she took a moment to bask in the hard-fought victory.
“They carried us all day,” Binford said. “When you get to this point in the season, you talk about your seniors. We’ve been talking about them all season, and I’m glad we were able to do it for them.”
This victory didn’t come easy, however.
The first quarter was all about Idaho State in the early going, as four quick baskets put the Bengals up 12-2 in the first six minutes. Ferris would pick up the offensive load fast for Montana State, scoring four quick points to cut the deficit within six. A pair of free throws by Hannah Caudill at the end of the first cut Idaho State’s lead to 16-12.
Riley Nordgaard got the scoring party started for the Bobcats, scoring the first five points of the second quarter to give Montana State their first lead of the game at 17-16. Both teams traded baskets back and forth throughout the quarter, but Ferris and Nordgaard were too much for the Bengals, and Montana State went into halftime carrying a 32-28 lead.
Coming back from halftime, both teams went on a defensive blitz, with both teams combining for only 17 points in the third quarter. However, Idaho State would go into the final quarter with a 39-38 lead, led by six points in the third from Grace Kenyon.
Montana State, hoping to avoid a repeat of last year, when they were the number one seed and got beat by Idaho State in the semifinals, turned to their two big guns in the fourth quarter. Nordgaard was all over the floor, getting rebounds of both ends of the floor, and Ferris distributed as much as she could. Ultimately, Idaho State couldn’t keep up with both of them, and Montana State ended up outscoring the Bengals 24-17 in the fourth.
With the win, Montana State won their first Big Sky tournament championship since the 1992-93 season and their first sweep of both regular season and postseason titles since that time.
Idaho State, who has won the tournament twice in the last 10 years, lost in the final round for the second year in a row (last season to Idaho).
Montana, as the Big Sky champs, earned an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, which starts next Saturday.