If Gonzaga had made another free throw, or two or three, Eastern Washington wouldn’t have been as disappointed after dropping a 75-69 decision at McCarthey Athletic Center Friday night.
The Bulldogs scored the last seven points of the game from the foul line, but it was the way that played out that left the 5,376 fans on pins and needles.
Chene Cooper, EWU’s 5-foot dynamo, put the Eagles up 69-68 with 2:38 to play by converting a three-point play.
It stayed that way until Kayla Standish made a pair of free throws with 40 seconds left to put Gonzaga (6-2) up 70-69. That’s when things got weird.
After Eastern’s Chenise Pakootas missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 23 seconds remaining, Katelan Redmon was fouled. Had she made both free throws, the Eagles, who had seven 3s, could have done something.
However, Redmon made the first (71-69) and missed the second, but teammate Haiden Palmer corralled the loose ball rebound. Palmer was fouled and duplicated Redmon (72-69) and Jazmine Redmon came up with the offensive board for the Zags. Jazmine Redmon went 1 for 2 (73-69) after she was fouled and then Standish grabbed the miss, sealing the game with two free throws with 10 seconds left.
That spoiled an effort by the Eagles (4-5), who were the better team for much of the night.
“That’s how we should have played the whole game,” Palmer said. “The crowd got us going a little bit, too. … They were great, better than we expected, to be honest. They just worked harder at the beginning. They got us on our heels a little bit. Once we started working as hard as them we came out with the win.”
Cooper was the showcase for effort. By far the shortest player on the floor, she matched teammate Carrie Ojeda’s career-high 16 points and had eight rebounds, one less than the 6-foot-3 Standish. She also had 10 assists and four steals and with 38 minutes on the floor against a desperate team, six turnovers.
“The whole game I thought we had them then the last 40 seconds they got those long rebounds,” Cooper said. “I can’t ask for anything else from my team. We had heart tonight.”
The Eagles put the Bulldogs on their heels in the first half, opening a nine-point in the middle and then scoring the last six for a 39-33 lead.
Cooper was doing much of the damage with 11 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Pakootas had eight points in 8 minutes off the bench.
The Eagles shot 51.7 percent, despite cooling off when the Bulldogs, who shot 36 percent, used an 11-2 run to tie the game at 33.
Gonzaga went on a 10-1 run in the opening moments of second half, but the Eagles regrouped behind junior Brianne Ryan, who had 14 points.
Down the stretch it was a couple of big 3s from Palmer that kept Bulldogs in it.
“It’s just something I’ve always been taught, shooters keep shooting,” said Palmer, who had 11 to go with 13 each from Standish and Katelan Redmon and 12 from Kelly Bowen.
Gonzaga shot 43 percent in the second half while EWU cooled to 36. And the Eagles, who had a rebounding edge for most of the game, lost that battled 42-38.
“More than to get on my team, I’m going to give Eastern Washington the credit,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. “I thought they played hard and hungry. … I was impressed. They played harder than us for a good portion of the game.”
The Eagles also had 19 turnovers and ultimately gave up 20 offensive rebounds.
“This is a good step for us, it showed us what we can do in a hostile environment,” EWU coach Wendy Schuller said. “I was pleased with our effort, but obviously mistakes down the stretch made the difference. Hopefully, we learned something, especially the last minute of the game. … It’s not a moral victory by any means.”
The Bulldogs are home Sunday against Montana. Eastern is home Monday against Eastern Oregon.