Nelson’s career-best 24 points lift Eagles

Lexie+Nelson+scored+seven+points+in+overtime+and+24+total+on+7-of-10+shooting

Lexie Nelson scored seven points in overtime and 24 total on 7-of-10 shooting

Lexie Nelson scored seven points in overtime and 24 total on 7-of-10 shooting
Lexie Nelson scored seven points in overtime and 24 total on 7-of-10 shooting

By Peter Sowards

SENIOR REPORTER

[email protected]

Thursday’s match up against Idaho State saw 58 combined free throws, 44 personal fouls, six ties, seven lead changes and an overtime victory for the Eagles with playoff seeding on the line.

“It was a battle for the ages,” head coach Wendy Schuller said.

Sophomore Lexie Nelson scored a career-high 24 points — seven in overtime — as the Eagles defeated Idaho State 67-61 in a battle for third place in the Big Sky Conference, a battle EWU won. The two teams came in with equal 12-6 conference records.

Redshirt freshman Hayley Hodgins hit a contested mid-range jumper with nine seconds left in regulation to tie the game up at 53-all. Idaho State had a chance to take the lead, but fumbled the ball out of bounds with 5.4 seconds left. Point guard Kylie Huerta attempted a running right-handed layup as time expired but it came up just short, and the game went to overtime.

Nelson went into closer-mode in the extra period, scoring the Eagles’ first five points on a contested jumper and 3-pointer to give EWU a 58-57 lead with 3:38 to play.

On the Eagles’ next possession, Huerta used a left-handed layup to put EWU up by three. ISU quickly came down and narrowed the Eagles lead to one on a pair of made free throws from Abyee Maracigan. The Bengals were 17-of-25 as a team from the free-throw line.

Another huge shot from Nelson — a high-arching mid-range baseline jumper — put the Eagles back on top by three with 1:45 to go. Again, the Bengals came down and narrowed it to one, this time by a layup from Ashleigh Vella, two of her team-leading 19 points.

After a missed layup attempt from Huerta, ISU had a chance to take the lead. Kaela Oakes, who scored 15 for Bengals, misfired on a 3-point attempt and Hodgins came down with the rebound.

Hodgins made the first free throw with 0:30 left to give EWU 63-61 lead. Her second free throw bounced off the front iron and into the awaiting arms of junior Aubrey Ashenfelter, whose impact was felt far beyond the stat sheet. “She was huge,” Schuller said. “I’ve been saying that about Aubrey all year. She’s a kid that doesn’t get nearly the amount of credit that she deserves. I don’t know if Aubrey knows that she’s as good as she is. She’s just such a cerebral basketball player and keeps us together on the floor, and she knows how to make plays when they need to be made.”

Ashenfelter, who finished with 10 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal, dished the ball outside before ISU had a chance to foul her. Huerta wound up with the ball and made four free throws in the closing seconds to put the game away.

Schuller praised the competitive spirits of Huerta and Nelson after the game. “Those are two guards that I know want the ball in their hands late,” she said. “Lexie was hot, and I think the team did a great job of understanding that and got her the ball, and then she stepped up and had a lot of guts and made plays.”

Nelson was quick to praise her teammates’ efforts rather than take the credit. “First off, I got to hand it to my team,” she said. “We all stayed calm and just stuck to our game. I felt like never once throughout that game were we ever frantic or worried.”

Much to the dismay of ISU head coach Seton Sobolewski, who was in the official’s ear all night, EWU set a season-high with 33 free-throw attempts, making 27. “I thought in the second half especially we did a better job getting the ball into the post and just going up and trying to score it instead of messing around with it,” Schuller said. “In the first half I thought we were waiting for that double team too long.”

The Eagles trailed 26-18 at the break, making just five of their 22 field-goal attempts.

EWU started the second half on a 15-1 run after Schuller questioned the player’s toughness. “I called out the team at halftime in terms of that and just talked about how much tougher a team that they were than we were,” she said. “Every aspect of the game was showing that in the first half.

“I’m glad that the strategy worked and they tried to prove me wrong because I thought that we gutted that thing out. Idaho State’s as tough as they come. They’re a good basketball team.”

EWU locked up the No. 3 seed in the upcoming Big Sky Conference tournament with the victory and will take on No. 6 seed Montana State. The tournament will be held in Missoula, Mont., thanks to the University of Montana earning the No. 1 Seed. The Eagles’ first-round game will take place at 4:30 p.m. on March 13 or 14, depending on how the men’s seeding works out.

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