Women's basketball: Idaho State at Montana State

Montana State's Tori Martell defends Idaho State's Dora Goles on Saturday at Worthington Arena in Bozeman.

BOZEMAN — Minutes after the game, Tori Martell still wasn’t sure how it all happened.

Montana State was facing a three-point deficit against Idaho State, the team at the top of the Big Sky standings, with 4.4 seconds remaining. MSU head coach Tricia Binford told point guard Darian White to inbound the ball to Gabby Mocchi, then set a screen for Martell.

White needed clarification multiple times, but once the players were on the court, she followed the plan. All of the Bobcats did.

Martell, who led the conference with made 3-pointers entering the week, stood near the free-throw line to start. She used White’s screen to gain separation. She caught the pass from Mocchi well beyond the 3-point line at the right wing. Though about 25 feet away, she had an open look at the hoop.

Her teammates, having seen Martell make plenty of shots like this before, stood up and raised their hands in excitement as soon as the ball left her hands. They already knew.

“It was pretty deep, but there’s nothing outside of Tori’s range,” Binford said. “It was just a well-executed play.”

After allowing Idaho State to eliminate a double-digit advantage at intermission and take the lead late in the fourth quarter, the Bobcats had tied the contest up. This only preluded a dominant overtime period as MSU battled for an 88-80 victory over Idaho State on Saturday at Worthington Arena.

“After Thursday’s game, we were a little discouraged, but we knew we could beat them. We knew if we played our game, moved the ball and played like we have been in the past few weeks, we could beat them,” Martell said. “We showed how much we wanted it. In the end, we were like, ‘This is all going to come down to how much we want this and the fight we put into this.’ I think we did that and showed how much we want it and showed we can be the best team in this conference.”

The Bobcats (14-6, 11-3 Big Sky) nearly didn’t make it to overtime at all. As both teams exchanged buckets in the final minutes of regulation, the Bengals (16-3, 12-2) led for most of the way.

After White made two free throws to tie it, Tomekia Whitman made a jumper following an offensive rebound for a two-point Idaho State lead. White made a layup with 1:09 to go to tie it at 68, but Whitman made a layup of her own just 16 seconds later.

The Bengals made enough free throws to lead by three with 20 seconds to go. This led to Martell’s 3.

“That big-time shot by Tori I thought carried the momentum into overtime,” Binford said. “That was the flip of the switch for us mentally that we were going to find a way to finish this game.”

Before the fourth quarter, Martell had just six points. In overtime, she had nine on 3-of-3 shooting. She powered the Bobcats as they scored 16 points in overtime while ISU was 3 of 11 from the field after regulation.

“I was just feeling hot,” Martell said with a laugh, “and was just taking it to the basket and kept shooting my shot. My teammates were finding me, and we were working together.”

Martell and Bobcats sophomore Madison Jackson tied for a game-high 20 points. Martell was 7 for 11 and 4 of 5 from 3-point range to go with a team-high four assists. Jackson made 6 of 9 shots and 3 of 4 3-pointers to go with seven rebounds. Her points and rebounds totals were career highs.

Kola Bad Bear added 14 pounds and nine rebounds before she fouled out. White finished with 12 points and three steals. The Bobcats also limited the Bengals, who were led by Delaney Moore’s game-high 25 points, to 39% shooting.

As Jackson reflected on how MSU came back to win, she thought of three words.

“Never give up,” she said.

After a loss at Idaho State on Thursday, which snapped an eight-game winning streak, the Bobcats’ resolve was tested in Saturday’s contest. To start, Idaho State was aggressive and rapidly moved the ball around until finding open shots. The Bengals were in command early and led 17-4 less than seven minutes into the game.

But the Bobcats were driven to respond. Midway through the second quarter, Jackson caught an off-target pass on defense and started sprinting the other way. She crossed over to avoid an Idaho State defender, and passed off to White.

She took just one dribble and darted a pass over to the other side of the court to Martell at the right wing. She cashed the 3, cutting ISU’s lead to just two points midway through the second quarter.

This was exactly how Montana State has wanted to play all season, letting its offensive opportunities develop from its defense. But it wasn’t as successful at Idaho State on Thursday when the Bengals won by 10 points and limited MSU to making just 35% of its shots.

With less than a minute left in the first quarter, Martell used a screen from Bad Bear to dribble over to the right wing. Two Bengals shifted over to Martell, leaving Bad Bear open as she popped over to the top of the key. The Billings Senior graduate sunk the open 3, MSU’s eighth of the contest.

The Bobcats were up 37-25 at intermission. They appeared ready to continue rolling in the third quarter.

Late in the frame, after Jackson set a screen for Ava Ranson at the right wing, she floated over into the corner. Once Ranson passed her the ball, Jackson wasn’t going to be stopped.

Jackson drove to her right, pounding the ball as she moved toward the hoop. Even as three opponents swarmed around her, Jackson couldn’t be prevented from scoring. She dove toward the other side of the lane and put up a reverse layup.

As the ball fell through the hoop, Jackson fell to the floor. After rolling around, she quickly was back up on her feet and ready to get back on defense. This gave MSU a 51-37 lead with less than three minutes before the start of the fourth quarter.

But even a play like this didn’t stop Idaho State from coming back. The Bengals made 16 of 31 shots (52%) in the third and fourth quarters. They outscored MSU 18-9 over a six-minute stretch in the fourth.

Binford described Idaho State as hard to guard. She said the Bengals “picked us apart” and made getting stops on a consistent basis difficult.

“We kind of got away from what we were doing in the first half,” Martell said. “We weren’t moving the ball and getting open shots. Once they started coming back, we froze a little bit and went back to our old habits. Just not doing what we do and sharing the ball like we usually do.”

This all simply led up to the final minutes when the Bobcats took control.

Binford compared Saturday’s game to the pressure the Bobcats will face at the Big Sky tournament. After watching her team endure Saturday’s challenge, she said the experience will further prepare MSU for the end of the season.

“We really give it everything that we have,” Jackson said. “We have a lot of heart.”

Colton Pool can be reached at cpool@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.

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