HELENA — The Carroll College women’s basketball team usually doesn’t have a problem shooting the basketball.

It wasn’t atop the Frontier Conference during the regular season, but it still shot above 40 percent.

But the seventh-ranked Saints sure picked the worst time to struggle.

The Saints shot 25 percent from the field in the first half during the opening round of the Frontier Conference Tournament against Montana Tech, but coach Rachelle Sayers had no intention in pushing the panic button.

“Five percent of the game is scoring and the other 95 percent is everything else,” Sayers said. “We were focused on shooting when we should have been focusing on everything else. We didn’t have good energy, we weren’t communicating and we weren’t aggressive. That’s where we needed to make a change.”

So Sayers added some pressure defense to turn up the intensity and shots started to fall.

It was the spark the Saints needed to come away with a 59-50 win at the PE Center on Tuesday night.

The win puts them back in the Frontier Conference semifinals for a second straight year.

“This team is resilient,” senior forward Hannah Dean said. “We have learned that a lot throughout this season whether it be injury or bad shooting or just having an off night. I was confident that we would step up and finish.”

Carroll (23-7) was not the only team that couldn’t hit a shot in the first half.

Montana Tech (3-16) was also struggling from the floor.

By the end of the first quarter both teams made a combined four field goals with the Saints holding a slim 6-5 lead.

“We were getting good shots,” Sayers said. “We were getting layups and some open threes, but they just weren’t falling.”

Problems did not let up in the second quarter.

Exchanging 3-pointers in the opening minute highlighted what offense there was on display. Carroll’s Christine Denny and Dean scored just before halftime, but a 17-16 advantage couldn’t mask the poor shooting.

The Saints offense returned to form in the second half as Sayers ignited the spark with some full-court pressure.

Carroll switched to a four-out offense as junior forward Taylor Salonen came up with layup inside followed by a steal and a layup by Denny.

“Eventually we got some turnovers and that really helped us find our shot in the second half,” said Denny, who finished with 14 points.

The Saints increased their lead to as many as 13 points but the fourth quarter wasn’t all cheers.

With less than five minutes left in the game, Dean hit the floor after rolling her ankle.

She left and headed to the trainers room. She returned minutes later with her ankle wrapped in ice.

“It’s good, just a little tender,” Dean said. “We will play it by ear and see what happens.”

Montana Tech tried to attempt a comeback but could only get within seven points before the Saints answered.

While the Orediggers finish the season with just three conference wins,  Montana Tech coach Carly Sanon said she has a lot to look forward to. She returns her entire roster from next season.

“We are really young and started a a couple of freshmen and a lot of sophomores,” Sanon said. “We have to improve some things to get better because this conference is so good. I think we will be a team that can compete next year.”

As for Carroll, it has a date with Rocky Mountain (20-11) in the Frontier Conference Tournament semifinals.

The only question will be, will Dean be able to play?

“She will be in with the trainers tomorrow and we will hope for the best,” Sayers said. “She is as tough as they come and if she can play she will play. It’ll probably be a game day decision.”

Ryan Kuhn covers Carroll College athletics for the Independent Record and 406mtsports.com. Email him at ryan.kuhn@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @rskuhn

Carroll College sports reporter

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