Eastern Washington advances to Big Sky Championship with buzzer-beater

Eastern Washington advances to Big Sky Championship with buzzer-beater

For the first time since 1988, the Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team will play for a conference tournament championship. The No. 6 Eagles upset No. 2 Northern Colorado in the Big Sky Conference Semifinals today (March 13) by a score of 59-57 to advance to the championship.

The Eagles trailed for the entirety of the game up until the 3:33 mark in the third quarter when Jessica McDowell-White hit a three-pointer to give the Eagles a 34-33 lead.

Eastern Washington continued to lead by a small margin throughout the rest of the game up until Northern Colorado’s Krystal Leger-Walker hit a jumper with seven seconds on the clock to put the Bears up 57-56.

With the ball under Eastern’s basket and three seconds on the clock, McDowell-White would play a large part in the contest once again, bouncing her inbounds pass off of her Northern Colorado defender and cashed in the layup, giving Eastern a 58-57 lead. She was fouled and completed the old-fashioned three-point play and the Eastern Washington Eagles advanced to the Big Sky title game.

“I don’t deserve this group,” said a nearly speechless head coach Wendy Schuller , who is taking her team to the Big Sky Championship for the first time in her 18-year career at the helm. “We had players taking finals today at the hotel, these are true student-athletes. To lock in and play five games in seven days and give what they gave tonight, is phenomenal. We talked at the beginning of the year about being relentless and their picture will be next to that word in the dictionary. What a game.”

McDowell-White would finish with 10 points in the contest. Violet Kapri Morrow led the Eagles with 16 points and nine rebounds, while freshman Grace Kirscher rounded out the scoring with 12 points.

Neither team got on the board until the 6:34 mark in the first quarter. From there, the teams traded baskets until Northern Colorado used a 7-0 run to lead 13-6. Eastern did not have an answer and trailed 19-8 at the end of the first.

The tables turned in the second. Down 21-8, a Violet Kapri Morrow three-pointer sparked a 7-0 run that cut Eastern’s deficit to single digits, 21-15. Morrow had five points during the run and helped the Eagles outscore the Bears 14-9 in the second quarter. Eastern Washington shot 45.5 percent from the field and held the Bears to 16.7 percent to trail by just six, 28-22, at the half.

Eastern trailed 33-24 in the third quarter when who else but McDowell-White hit a jumper that sparked a 7-0 run by the Eagles to help them lead 36-35 after three quarters of play.

The fourth quarter was a battle. Eastern outscored the Bears by a narrow margin of 23-22 in the final frame. After a pair of Kirscher free throws put the Eagles ahead 56-51, the Bears answered with a 6-0 run to take the 57-56 lead. The rest of the game will forever be remembered in Eastern Washington history after McDowell-White’s crafty inbound play gave the Eagles their first championship game berth since 1988.

“I knew at the end of the day, we needed a bucket and her back was to me. We were overloaded on one side and I saw an opening and I knew I needed to make it,” said McDowell-White on her inbounds play. “I’ve never done that before, I’ve seen it, but I’ve never done something like that.”

WIN-LOSS RECORDS: Eastern Washington improves to 13-19 overall and Northern Colorado’s season ends at 21-10 overall.

Eastern Washington and Northern Colorado met twice during the regular season and split both meetings. UNC came to Cheney on Jan. 7 and beat the Eagles 67-62 in overtime. The Eagles got their revenge on Feb. 14, topping the Bears 76-72 on their own home floor.

Eastern Washington trails the all-time series 15-11. The last 12-straight meetings between the foes have been decided by nine points or less.

TOP PERFORMANCES: The Eagles had three in double figures, led by Violet Kapri Morrow’s 16 points. She also led the team with nine rebounds.

Grace Kirscher scored 12 points while leading the team with two assists along with Jessica McDowell-White who scored 10. McDowell-White was 4-for-8 from the field.

Alissa Sealby led the way with two blocks while Brittany Klaman added two steals.

KEY STATISTICS: Eastern Washington shot 40.8 percent from the field (20-49) and were 4-15 from three-point range and 15-18 from the free throw line. They were out-rebounded 47-35.

The Eagles held the Bears to just 30 percent (21-70) from the field and the Bears were 5-for-27 from three-point range.

EAGS IN THE TOURNAMENT: The Eagles have not advanced to the championship game since March 12, 1988 where they lost to No. 1 Montana as a No. 2 seed by a score of 79-53.

Eastern Washington has won one Big Sky Tournament title in 1987 when the league was still known as the Mountain West Conference. The No. 2 Eagles beat No. 1 Montana to advance to the NCAA Tournament. EWU earned a No. 7 seed and played No. 10 Oregon on March 11 in Eugene and fell 75-56.

In the finals, they are 1-3 all-time with all four games being played against Montana.

Head coach Wendy Schuller, who is the longest tenured Big Sky coach in her 18th season, has won a program-best 11 BSC Tournament games. Under Schuller, the Eagles are 11-14 in the tournament.

MORE FROM COACH SCHULLER:

On what it took to win: “We really struggled to score early and Northern Colorado scouted us well. We had a lot of cobwebs, playing five games in seven days, and we tried to get moving. Once we got into a groove, we started to play harder. You hope your defense keys your offense, but when you make baskets you get a little pep in your step on the defensive end. They crushed us on the glass in the first half and I thought we rebounded much better in the second half. I feel like I tried to screw up everything there at the end, but the players still found a way.”