Acliese leads EWU to an overtime win over first-place Montana State

Ewu Eagles

CHENEY, Wash. — For the second-straight week, the top team in the Big Sky Conference came to Reese Court and were upset by the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team. Tonight, the Eagles played host to Montana State, the top-team in the conference on an 11-game winning streak, and won 88-86 in overtime. The win moves Eastern to 14-12 overall and 8-7 in Big Sky action, while Montana State drops to 20-6 and 12-3. It was a bounce-back win from a 69-65 loss that EWU suffered back on Jan. 27, 2022 in Bozeman, Mont., as the two teams split the regular season meetings with wins on their own home floors. The Eagles have now won seven of their last eight games against the Bobcats, including the tournament championship a year ago. At the half, Eastern Washington led 41-38. With under five minutes left in regulation, the Eagles were down 70-63 and trailed 74-68 with just under three minutes on the clock. Eastern Washington then used a 7-0 run, all of which came from the free throw line, to tie the game 74-74. It was Rylan Bergersen who hit the pair with 20 seconds left to tie the game. In the overtime period, Eastern led by as many as five but had the lead cut to a point with 22 seconds on the clock. Bergersen would be the hero again, making the game-winning jumper with five seconds left that Montana State could not answer. “(The game plan) was to get (the ball) moving from side-to-side. Montana State is a high-level, defensive, team and they’ve done a great job. Especially in conference, they’ve been getting better on defense. They pressure you, and getting the ball popping around relieves some of that pressure and we were able to attack close-outs, where we’re really good,” noted head coach David Riley. “We were solid with that, and I still think we have room to grow.” Eastern has now won three-straight at home after losing four-straight on the road, it is also 2-0 in overtime contests this season (67-64 at CSUN on 11/19/21). Four Eagles scored in double figures in tonight’s contest, but Linton Acliese III’s stat line stands out the most with a 38-point effort. His new career high is the most points scored by an Eagle this season, and ranks tied for 14th in program history. He was 13-for-19 from the field, 5-for-10 from three-point range, 7-for-8 from the free throw line and also grabbed eight rebounds. The contest got off to a fast start, with both teams hitting their first three-point attempt to get things going. After the first three minutes saw four lead changes, the Eagles started to settle in. Linton Acliese III drained three three-pointers in the first six minutes of action, helping Eastern Washington explode on a 12-2 run to pull ahead 18-9. After Eastern Washington built its largest lead of 22-11, it was quickly diminished to 22-18 after a 7-0 Bobcat run. The Eagles held on to their lead, but Montana State slowly chipped away to trail by just a point, 33-32, with 2:57 left in the first half. With 1:24 left to play, the game moved in to a 36-36 tie. With the contest locked at 38-38, the MSU bench received a technical and Steele Venters made the free throw attempt. Casey Jones then finished things off with a dunk at the buzzer and Eastern Washington took a 41-38 into the locker room. Acliese led the way with 19 points and four rebounds on 7-for-11 from the field with four three-pointers in the first half. At the 13:54 mark of the second half, Montana State took its first lead since the early goings of the first half. The Bobcats used a 9-0 run for their largest lead of the game, 55-50. The Eagles were not down for long, using a quick 6-0 run that included four points from Acliese to pull back ahead 56-55. The game moved back into a 63-63 tie before the Bobcats moved along on a 7-0 run to retake a 70-63 lead. After an EWU timeout, Jones snapped the run with a layup, but Montana State began to pull away 74-67 with 2:49 left to play. That’s when the comeback began, as the Eagles scored seven-straight points from the free throw line to tie the game 74-74. Bergersen’s two attempts with 20 seconds left tied the contest, and Montana State’s rebuttal came up short on the other end. Bergersen played hero several times in the overtime period. His no-look pass to Jones for a dunk put the Eagles up 84-79 with 1:15 left to play. Montana State cut the lead down to 84-82, and then 86-85 after the Bobcats hit the triple and drew a foul, completing a four-point play to tie the contest 86-86. With five seconds left to play, Bergersen dodged his defender, stepped back, and hit the game-winning jumper.