Defensive effort paces Eastern men past Montana State 74-49

Eastern Washington women fall to Northern Colorado
Eastern Washington women fall to Northern Colorado

CHENEY, Wash. — Forget having the nation’s fifth-best offense, defense by the Eagles ruled the day on Saturday (Jan. 8) afternoon at Reese Court.

The Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team allowed just 16 points in the first half and closed a stretch of four games in eight nights with an easy 74-49 victory against Montana State Saturday (Feb. 8) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

Senior Mason Peatling paced the Eagles with a double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds, and had a pair of blocked shots to go over 100 in his career. He hit 8-of-13 shots from the field as he finished with his eighth double-double of the season – fifth in the last seven games. He has 16 in his career, with EWU owning a 15-1 record in those contests.

Sophomore Tanner Groves came off the bench to finish with 16 points, four rebounds and two blocks, making 6-of-8 shots from the field. He made 4-of-5 3-pointers to help EWU finish with a 13-of-30 (43 percent) performance against a Bobcats team ranked 30th in NCAA Division I in 3-point field goal percentage defense (.296).

Eastern’s defense was superb, holding MSU to 22 percent shooting in the game and just 20 percent in the first half. Montana State’s three leading scorers – all with averages of 11.6 or better – were held to a total of 15 points on 6-of-24 shooting. Harald Frey was held to just four, more than 13 below his season average.

“Our players really, really competed and did a good job of understanding what we needed to do,” said Eastern head coach Shantay Legans, whose team had played three road games in six nights from Feb. 1-6. “And it came with a short turnaround from playing Montana on Thursday and riding a bus home that night.”

In leading by as many as 19 in the first half and 36 in the second, the 25-point winning margin was EWU’s best versus a Big Sky opponent and second-best versus a NCAA Division I opponent this season. And they did that with leading scorer Jacob Davison finishing with just one point, leaving him 13 shy of becoming the 23rd player in Eastern’s 112-year basketball history to hit the 1,000-point in his career.

Jacob Davison had only one point, yet we had one of our biggest blowouts of the season,” said Legans. “That is huge. It shows the balance of this team and the understanding of the game plan.”

Eastern is now 9-1 at home this season, but is also an impressive 7-6 on the road which includes a convincing 71-58 victory at MSU on Jan. 18. The Eagles have won eight home games in a row in the series with MSU, and have not lost to the Bobcats at Reese Court since a 60-56 Bobcat win on Feb. 24, 2011.

The Bobcats made just one of their first 16 shots, but EWU couldn’t capitalize fully and led only 12-4 after an early 3-of-13 start of its own.

Eastern got untracked later in the half, and a 9-0 run put EWU up 24-11 on a back-to-back 3-pointers by junior Jack Perry. Soon thereafter, Groves hit a pair of 3-pointers and had a rebound basket during a 9-2 run to put EWU up 32-15 just before halftime.

The Eagles led 35-16 at intermission, registering its best defensive effort against a NCAA Division I opponent this season. The previous fewest was 26 at Sacramento State on Feb. 1, as EWU held the Bobcats to 20 percent shooting in the first half. Eastern finished at 41 percent, with Groves coming off the bench to score 11 points in 13 minutes of action.

Eastern broke the game open in the second half with a 14-0 run, with Peatling scoring nine of the points to put the Eagles up by 31 at 49-18 with 12:41 to play. Eastern led by as many as 36 and no less than 28 the rest of the way.

Montana State still had only 30 points with just over six minutes remaining as EWU flirted with allowing its fewest points ever in a Big Sky game. The record is 35 set in a 77-35 win over Idaho State on Feb. 19, 2005.

Records . . .

* Eastern is now 16-7 overall and 9-3 in the league, having fallen out of first place in the Big Sky Conference standings with a 92-82 loss at Montana on Feb. 6. The Eagles entered Saturday’s action a half-game behind the Grizzlies (9-3). Northern Colorado (8-3) entered Saturday tied with EWU, followed by Northern Arizona (7-5) and Southern Utah and Montana State (both 6-5). Eastern had originally moved into first place in the standings when Montana lost its second-straight game, 88-81 to Portland State on Jan. 30.

* The game versus the Grizzlies was Eastern’s third road game in a six-day span, and EWU won the first two – 59-54 at Sacramento State on Feb. 1 and 77-66 at Northern Arizona on Feb. 3. That enabled the Eagles to maintain first place in the conference standings as the second half of the league season is underway. Eastern has eight games remaining – five at home and just three on the road.

* The Bobcats, who were coming off a 72-50 win at Idaho on Feb. 6, are 6-6 in the Big Sky and 12-11 overall. Eastern beat MSU in Bozeman by a 71-58 score on Jan. 18.

* Montana is the two-time defending Big Sky Conference champion, and EWU has missed out on NCAA Tournament berths by falling to the Grizzlies in both the 2018 (82-65) and 2019 (68-62) championship games of the league tournament. Both EWU and UM are the preseason picks to win the league title in the 2019-20 season – Eastern by the coaches and Montana by the media.

* Eastern had its best non-conference record (7-4) since beginning the 2015-16 season with an 8-2 mark and going 9-4 in the preseason. While the Eagles are now 9-1 at home thus far, Eastern is 7-6 on the road, having registered one of its biggest victories in school history, an 87-82 home win on Nov. 26 over mid-major power Belmont in the final game for both schools in the Gotham Classic.

What’s Next . . .

* Seeking a season sweep of Idaho, the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team hosts the Vandals as part of a Big Sky Conference doubleheader Thursday (Feb. 13) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash. The men’s game will start at approximately 7:45 p.m., 30 minutes after the EWU women’s game versus Idaho which begins at 5:35 p.m. Both games of the doubleheader will be televised regionally by SWX.

* Idaho is coached by former Eagle Zac Claus, who lettered for EWU in the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons after transferring from Nebraska. He’ll be making his first return appearance at Reese Court as a collegiate head coach. Idaho’s Trevon Allen is among the Big Sky’s leading scorers, averaging 20.2 points to rank second in the league. He’s from Clarkston, Wash., and made plenty of trips to Cheney during his high school days to play league games. But this will be his last visit, and he is one of the league’s most talented guards with averages of 4.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.7 steals per game.