RENO, Nev.-- Two longer scoring droughts cost North Dakota in an opening round loss to Montana State, 68-58, in the Big Sky Conference Tournament at the Reno Events Center. UND-- the 10 seed in this tourney-- sees its season come to a close at 12-18 overall.
North Dakota led 21-18 midway through the second quarter but failed to make a field goal over the final five minutes and change as the Bobcats cashed in on Fighting Hawks' turnovers and scored the final 18 points of the half and led, 36-21, at the break.
The Fighting Hawks clawed and got it back within three in the fourth quarter but again, went nearly four minutes without a field goal and Montana State reclaimed a double-digit advantage and eventually closed out a 68-58 win to advance to Wednesday's quarterfinal round against second-seed Idaho.
UND's comeback was sparked by Mikayla Reinke, who tripled on back-to-back possessions to instantly trim the deficit to 11. Faith Dooley added two more field goals and it was a seven-point game with 6:28 left in the third. Later, Klabo would make a layup to make it 41-34, but Montana State (16-14) answered with eight straight points and eventually stretched its lead to as many as 16 to take back any momentum gained.
Klabo had a layup and a three to make it a two-possession game early in the fourth and later the deficit was just three after another Klabo lay-in and a pair of Freije free throws. It was 56-53 at that point with just under five minutes remaining, however, that would be the closest it would get. Rebekah Hatchard scored then Delaney Junkermier tripled twice to get the lead back to 11.
The Fighting Hawks had one final push in them as Melissa Dailey's three with 45 seconds left made it 64-58, but MSU salted it away at the free throw line to end UND's run in the Big Sky Conference.
Junior Lexi Klabo finished with her 14th double-double of the season with a game-high 24 points and 12 rebounds in the loss. Fallyn Freije added 11 points and six rebounds off-the-bench for the Fighting Hawks.
UND will join The Summit League beginning next season, aligning with regional rivals North Dakota State, South Dakota and South Dakota State.
Notes: Klabo scored 84 points over the final three games of the season ... She finished her junior year with 189 free throw makes, 10 shy of the Big Sky Conference's all-time single-season mark ... That mark bests UND's single-season record by 45 ... Her 349 career free throw makes are already seventh -most in school history ... Klabo enters her senior season with 1,089 points, tied for 27th on UND's all-time scoring list ... UND ends its six-year run in the Big Sky Conference with a 3-4 mark in the league tournament, including a 2014 title ... Freije goes into her senior campaign needing just 162 points to reach 1,000.