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Tori Martell floated to the wing, ready for her opportunity.

Ashley Van Sickle caught a pass down low, turned and found Martell wide open. As soon as Martell caught the ensuing pass, she fired. As she has countless times in her career, her 3-point attempt sunk with 2 minutes, 7 seconds remaining.

But this was not just another make. Martell set the Montana State record with her eighth made 3-pointer in a single game.

Perhaps more importantly to Martell, who has prioritized the positive influence she provides her teammates, the Bobcats (1-0) were lifted to a victory. Behind a potent offensive barrage from beyond the arc, the Bobcats defeated North Dakota 84-72 to open the 2020-21 season.

Martell, a 5-foot-8 senior guard from Somerset, Wisconsin, finished 8 of 11 from 3-point range and 8 for 14 from the field for a career-high 26 points.

“For somebody like Tori Martell, there’s not a shot I’m going to let her pass up, and you’ve got to go with experience,” Bobcats head coach Tricia Binford said. “With this kid starting for us and being such a 3-point specialist, the more 3s we can find for her, the better.”

With 32 seconds left, Martell and her teammates gathered in a huddle during a timeout. Greeted with a hug from her teammate, Martell smiled. When freshman Ava Ranson told her congratulations, Martell was confused.

“Dude, we haven’t won yet,” Martell remembers responding. “What are you talking about?”

“It’s very exciting I guess,” Martell said with a laugh after the game. “It’s a new thing to think about and to leave behind, but I guess it’s pretty cool.”

In MSU’s first game since the Big Sky championship was canceled back in March, Martell was instantly in a rhythm.

She opened MSU’s scoring with a 3 from the right wing. And she continued to fire every time she had a look at the hoop, contested or not. Martell ended the first half 5 of 6 from 3-point range for 15 points.

“I don’t really have a (thought) about if I make or miss them these days. I’m just shooting my shot and taking all the looks I can get,” she said. “I think going into the season, something (Binford) emphasized is people will know I’m a shooter and they’re going to guard me a little bit tighter, so I’m taking any open look I can get.”

Martell, who has played off the bench for most of her career, has been a threat from deep throughout her time at MSU. She said her limited minutes as a freshman bothered her initially, but she learned the importance of prioritizing the team in that time.

After her performance Sunday, Martell admitted she hadn’t thought of what it would mean to her to break a school record. She credited her teammates like point guard Darian White for finding her for open looks.

White noted she would be upset with Martell if she didn’t take a high volume of 3-pointers because the Bobcats trust her so much.

“It’s so exciting because it’s so hard to stop,” White said. “It’s nice though. It gets us going for sure.”

As she’s matured and added skills to her repertoire, Martell’s become increasingly vital to the Bobcats. She was the Big Sky top reserve of the year last year, mostly because of her scoring potential as a shooter.

Martell entered her senior season eighth on MSU’s career list for 3-pointers made with 142. She hopped up one spot to seventh on Sunday. Katie Bussey owns the record with 254.

“Obviously this team looks to somebody like Tori for a reason,” Binford said. “She’s steady. She’s consistent. She’s super solid. She’s that example on both ends of the floor, and just what a great day to start us off this year.”

Binford expected the Fighting Hawks to pack the paint and prevent drives or post ups from doing much damage. A year ago, the Bobcats thrived with those attack methods.

But this is a new year. Martell is the lone senior for the Bobcats, and MSU now has seven freshmen. At one point Sunday, Binford realized the Bobcats had four of those newcomers together on the floor.

MSU’s identity has changed with its new roster. The Bobcats finished 14 of 40 (35%) from 3 and 27 of 70 (38.6%) from the field. White said the Bobcats took the correct shots because of the way UND was defending.

“Finding the rhythm shooters was obviously a priority that we focused on,” Binford said. “(Martell has) just been a solid presence for us on the floor, so I’m just really proud of everyone finding her.”

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

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