MSU Women's Hoops Scrimmage

Montana State’s Kola Bad Bear takes the ball to the net during a scrimmage Oct. 18 at Worthington Arena.

Montana State’s lead had dwindled to just a possession. The Bobcats needed a response.

Darian White provided one. The MSU freshman hit a 3-pointer with 53 seconds remaining, making her team’s lead insurmountable.

The Bobcats, despite being edged in several statistical categories, won at Seattle University 73-65 on Saturday.

The Bobcats bounced back after dropping a pair of challenging road games to South Dakota State and Minnesota, both top-notch Division I opponents. But the win lifts MSU, the preseason favorite to win the Big Sky, to 4-2.

“I was really proud of how we finished,” Montana State head coach Tricia Binford said, “but there were some moments where we were not as sharp as we needed to be.”

The Bobcats worked up a 31-29 lead at halftime, then pulled away in the third. White hit all three of her field goals, Madeline Smith added six points and seven MSU players scored in the frame.

The Bobcats led by as many as 20 points late in the third. Binford believes her team meshed well after the intermission as four Bobcats finished the game in double-digit scoring.

“You don’t want to lose chemistry when you have it,” Binford said. “That’s where the chemistry really showed was in that third quarter.”

MSU Women's Hoops Scrimmage

Montana State's Blaire Braxton rebounds during a scrimmage on Oct. 18 at Worthington Arena.

Binford is happy she has so many players who can contribute points and other plays when needed.

The challenge for her is finding the right lineups in the right situations.

Smith’s aggressive approach in the post, for example, was vital. The senior forward led MSU with 18 points on 7 of 13 shooting. She also totaled a team-high nine rebounds as the Bobcats finished with a 42-31 advantage on the boards.

“Really solid. The key in the third was that right from the start we went to the post play,” Binford said. “Her attack-minded mindset in the post was extremely important for us.”

The Bobcats shot 36% from the field and 28% from 3-point range. White totaled 11 points while Fallyn Freije, who was in early foul trouble, added 10.

MSU senior guard Oliana Squires recorded 17 points, six rebounds and four assists. Binford said Squires provided a stable presence, particularly in the second half.

“She’s showing her experience and calmness with her ability,” Binford said. “She’s just so dynamic, and she can play with the ball in her hands or off the ball. Right now, she’s giving us such a lift and some composure and making the right plays. She’s also put her team on her shoulders … and that’s a sign of leadership from her.”

The Redhawks stormed back in the fourth, making 42% of their shots and 33% of their 3-pointers in the frame. A Courtney Murphy layup with 1:13 remaining slashed MSU’s lead to just three points.

Binford has talked often about testing her players in their nonconference schedule. The fact that the Bobcats have played talented teams doesn’t matter. She wanted to them to show resolve so that by the time they were into their Big Sky slate, they were ready.

Last week at Minnesota, the Bobcats squandered a double-digit lead. They also were close with South Dakota State after the first half. But Binford said her players weren’t satisfied with being close to winning.

White’s 3-pointer with less than a minute to go proved the Bobcats are approaching the level Binford had hoped for.

“We were able to hold them off,” Binford said. “We need to make sure we’re more solid so we can finish games a lot better.”

Colton Pool can be reached at cpool@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.