FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Senior Paige Haynes had a career-high 22 points and senior Amy Patton had 18 points and 10 rebounds and tied NAU's career 3-pointers made record but Montana State held on to a late lead to score a 68-66 win over the Lumberjacks on Saturday in the Walkup Skydome.
The loss eliminated NAU from Big Sky Championship contention as the Lumberjacks finished the season 7-13 in the conference and 8-21 overall.
"I thought we played a great game; I thought we played hard and played together but just came up short at the end," said NAU head coach Sue Darling as her first season leading the Lumberjacks came to a close. "Basketball is a game of runs; they made a run, we made a run, but they had the last one, and the team that has the last run usually wins the game. I couldn't be more proud of my team and especially more proud of my seniors. They went out in style and left it all on the floor, and that's all you can ask."
The Bobcats led by five points with 21 seconds to play before Haynes hit a pair of free-throw to bring NAU within three. Haynes then got a steal as a tie-up gave NAU the ball back on the possession arrow with seven seconds remaining. Unable to get a clean look at a 3-point shot, Patton made a layup to bring NAU within a 67-66 deficit with two seconds remaining.
NAU fouled on the inbounds pass with one second left, and Montana State's Kalli Durham made her first free-throw to put the visitors up by two. She missed the second free-throw but got her own rebounded as the clock expired and the Bobcats held on for the win.
Haynes' 22 points surpassed her previous career-high of 15 points set earlier this season against Southern Utah while she shot 7-of-12 from the field and added five rebounds, three assists and no turnovers while playing almost the entire 40 minutes. Patton recorded her ninth double-double of the year and hit a pair of 3-point shots to end her career tied with Kim Winkfield for the program record with 193 career 3-pointers.
"Its bittersweet," said Haynes following her career-best game. "I wish the outcome would have been in our favor but I'm trying to stay positive. I knew this could have been our last game so I just tried to give it my all."
The Lumberjacks led by as many as seven points in the first half and came out strong, shooting better than 60% through the first 10 minutes of the game. NAU took an early 11-5 lead and continued to hold the advantage until the Bobcats knotted the score at 20 with just under 10 minutes left in the half. A 10-3 Lumberjack run gave NAU its biggest advantage of the game at 30-23 with 5:59 remaining in the opening period, and after MSU rallied back to level the score a 32-32 junior Amanda Frost ended the half with a Lumberjack 3-pointer to give the home team the halftime lead.
NAU started the second half 1-of-11 from the field as Montana State built a 50-41 advantage through the opening eight minutes of the period. The visitors still led by nine at 54-45 with under 10 minutes to play before NAU made its run, going on an 11-2 spurt over the next five minutes to bring the score even at 56-56 at the 5:20 mark of the half.
The game was still tied with 2:15 left in regulation before Montana State senior Latisha Adams hit a 3-pointer to give MSU a lead it would not relinquish. NAU trailed by just one point with 1:29 to play before MSU made consecutive layups to go up 67-62. Haynes helped bring the Lumberjack back within a point in the final seconds but the home team fell just short of forcing overtime in the two-point loss.
Montana State (17-12, 11-9 Big Sky) held a .435-.397 advantage in field-goal percentage for the game but NAU won the battle of the boards 40-36, including 16 offensive rebounds compared to just 12 offensive boards for the Bobcats leading to a 15-11 advantage in second chance points.
NAU also had an 11-8 advantage in made free-throws but was just 11-of-17 from the line. Adams had 15 points to lead three Bobcats in double-figures as her team will enter next week's Big Sky Championship, which will be hosted by Montana, as the No. 6 seed in the tournament.
In addition to tying the 3-point record Patton also ends her career with program-best all-time marks of 1,938 points (5th in Big Sky history), 831 rebounds, and 738 career field-goals while ranking second all-time in steals (225) and points per game (16.7).
"I feel like the whole team gave a great effort and thought that it was a lot of fun," Patton said. "I'm going to miss these girls a lot but I guess it's on to the next chapter of my life. NAU has shown a lot of love to myself and my family and the team so it's been a great experience. Hopefully we have set a standard for the next years to come."
The 2012-13 Lumberjacks won the program's most Big Sky games (7) since the 2006-07 season, including the most road wins (4) since that same year. The team loses five graduating players – Haynes, Patton, Aubrey Davis, Patricia Gortarez, and Tyler Stephens-Jenkins – but for Darling the class has built a strong foundation for the program that she feels confident will continue to improve.
"I'm very proud of this team; I think we came from nowhere and turned ourselves into something," Darling said. "This is the first time in a long time that we were playing for something in March, so I'm very proud of that. I think the kids each took to it to heart to get better every day and they just kept growing and improving."
"We have some great stuff to build on. These seniors laid a great foundation for a very exciting future for this program."