BILLINGS, Mont. – Natalie Gamez led a furious second half rally, but Charlena Rodez’s jump shot at the buzzer was no good, handing St. Mary’s University a 69-67 loss to Montana State University-Billings in Heartland Conference women’s basketball action Wednesday night at Alterowitz Gymnasium.

Thanks to the shooting of Michelle Lieber, who scored 16 first half points, the Yellowjackets led by as much as 13 points in the first half and took a 44-35 advantage into the locker room at the break. But the Rattlers turned up the defensive pressure and rallied to take the lead.

With 17:45 to play in the game Lieber made one of two free throws to give MSUB a 47-35 advantage. Ashton Benford (So., Waxahachie) started a 10-0 run with a lay-up to cut the deficit to 10 at 47-37. Gamez (So., San Antonio) followed with a pair of free throws and Juanita Merchant (Jr., Angleton) made it a four-point game with baskets on back-to-back possessions. Dawn Killian (Sr., San Antonio) capped the run with a lay-up with 14:27 to play and Rattlers trailed by just two at 49-47.

Back came MSUB on a three-pointer by Alira Carpenter to increase the Yellowjacket advantage to five. But Merchant responded with a three-pointer of her own to make it a two-point game again. On the Rattlers next possession Merchant nailed her second straight trey to give St. Mary’s the lead at 53-52 with 11:59 to play. Jenn Smith hit two free throws for Billings to give them the lead back at 54-53. Lieber gave the Yellowjackets a two-point lead with 10:40 to play, but Killian responded with another Rattler three-pointer to give St. Mary’s the lead back at 57-56 with 10:03 to go.

St. Mary’s would extend the lead to as much as three points on a free throw by Gamez with 5:55 to go. But Lieber hit two free throws of her own to make it a one-point game with 5:35 left. Gamez hit another driving lay-up to increase the advantage again to three points. Smith responded with two free throws to cut the Rattler lead to one again. The turning point came when Jetton Meadors picked the pocket of the Rattlers Becca Herbst (Jr., Boerne), and then fed Smith for lay-up with 4:24 to play. That gave MSUB the lead at 64-63. Lieber then hit a short jumper to make it a three-point lead with 3:50 to play.

Charlene Rodez (Sr. Cedar Park) made one of two free throws with 1:46 to go to cut the deficit to two at 66-64.Rodez hit one of two free again to make it a one-point game at 66-65 with 1:09 left. Smith responded with a lay-up to increase the Yellowjacket edge to three at 68-65 with 46 left. Chastity Noble (Fr., El Paso) then hit a jump shot with 26 seconds to play to make it a one-point game again. Merchant fouled Shantell Marquis with 23 seconds left. Marquis hit one of two free throws, giving the Rattlers a chance. That chance appeared to vanish when Gamez missed a jump shot with 11 seconds left, but Marquis took a shot with four seconds left and missed. Merchant rebounded the ball and got it to Rodez, but her shot was off as time expired.

Gamez led the Rattlers with 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field and 6-of-7 from the free throw line. It was the second straight game and fifth over this season that Gamez has scored 20 or more points this season. Merchant added 15 points, while Rodez had 11.

With the loss the Rattlers fell to 6-12 overall and 2-2 in Heartland play. MSUB improved to 15-4 overall and 4-1 in HC play. St. Mary’s will return to action on Saturday when they travel to Jefferson City, Mo., to face Lincoln University in a Heartland matchup at 1:30 p.m.

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