Eagles get hot but can’t make final shot in 75-74 loss to Grizz

Eagles get hot but can’t make final shot in 75-74 loss to Grizz

Sometimes you just have to scrape off the frost.

Cold stretches helped dig double-digit deficits in each half for the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team, but they rallied late to knot the score three times before falling to preseason Big Sky Conference favorite Montana 75-74 Saturday (Feb. 9) at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula, Mont.

“We played spectacular at the end and we were a shot away from winning that ballgame,” said Eastern head coach Shantay Legans .

Sophomore Jacob Davison led the Eagles with 23 points for his sixth 20-point performance in his last seven games, but he missed a potential game-winning shot in the final seconds. Eastern was trying to take its first lead since the opening three minutes of the contest, as Montana led for 36:03 out of 40 minutes.

Davison’s miss ended a stretch in which EWU made six-straight shots, helping the Eagles finish at 46.4 percent for the game compared to 47.2 percent for the Grizzlies. Eastern made 59 percent of its shots in the second half, but it was the first time in nine games this season in which EWU made 45 percent or better and lost.

“We had the best player on the floor with the ball in his hands,” said Legans. “He’s averaging about 25 points over the last seven games, and we just let Jacob try to make a play. It was a shot I’ve seen him make a thousand times. He makes it all the time and I had a lot of confidence in that in a one-point game. I thought we were playing great and we were clicking offensively at that time. We felt that putting the ball in Jacob’s hands was the best decision to win that game.”

Returning to Dahlberg Arena where EWU had won five of its last six games, Jesse Hunt had a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Mason Peatling added 16 and seven boards before fouling out. The loss closed a stretch of four games in eight days for the Eagles, who return home for games at Reese Court on Feb. 16 and Feb. 18.

The Eagles had stretches of eight minutes in the first half and four minutes in the second half without a field goal to fall behind by a dozen in the first half and 13 in the second half. The Eagles used a 12-2 run late in the game to knot the score at 68, with Peatling contributing six of EWU’s points and three other Eagles scoring. The Eagles tied it at 70 with 2:03 left, 72 with 1:25 remaining and 74 at the :53 mark, and Michael Oguine scored the winning points with a free throw with 29 seconds to play.

The Grizzlies – the defending regular season and tournament champions and the preseason favorite to win again this year – got a measure of revenge after falling to EWU 78-71 in Cheney on Jan. 10. Montana has won all seven games since then to rise to 10-2 and to the top of the league standings.

The teams didn’t face each other in Missoula last year, but Montana won the Big Sky Tournament title with an 82-65 win over the Eagles in Reno, Nevada. Prior to that, Eastern had won five of the last six games it played at Dahlberg Arena – including three wins there in the 2015 Big Sky Conference Tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament.

Eastern missed eight-straight shots and went six minutes without a basket in the first half, and that helped Montana open a 12-point lead late in the first half. Baskets by Davison and Ty Gibson helped cut into the lead, but Eastern was out-shot 45 percent to 33 percent and ended up trailing 38-31 at halftime.

A 6-0 run by the Eagles in the second half on baskets by Hunt, Davison and Peatling helped cut Montana’s lead to five on a pair of occasions, but EWU had a nearly four minute stretch in which it couldn’t make a field goal, and had three turnovers in that stretch to boot. That surge gave UM a 59-46 lead with 11:05 to play.

Eastern was coming off a 74-66 loss at Montana State on Thursday (Feb. 7), while the Grizzlies beat Idaho by 41 points, 100-59.

Records . . .

* The Eagles are 8-15 overall, and 6-6 in Big Sky Conference play. Eastern beat pre-season favorite Montana 78-71 on Jan. 10 and Montana State 85-81 on Jan. 19 in Cheney. In those consecutive games the Eagles had season-best shooting percentages, including what is still a high-water mark for EWU of 57.9 percent versus the Bobcats. The Eagles are now 7-3 at home this season and 1-12 on the road, with the lone victory away from home coming at Sacramento State 94-92 in overtime on Jan. 26. Staying at the top of the league standings is important because the top five teams in the league gain a first-round bye in the Big Sky Conference Tournament March 13-16 in Boise, Idaho.

* Now 10-2 in the Big Sky and 17-6 overall, Montana exited Saturday in sole possession of first in the league standings. Northern Colorado (10-3) is right behind the Grizzlies, followed by Weber State (9-4), MSU (8-5), Southern Utah (7-6) and EWU (6-6). The Grizzlies entered the EWU game with four players averaging in double figures, led by senior guard Ahmaad Rorie with averages of 15.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He was held to four by EWU, but Sayeed Pridgett scored a team-high 19 and had nine rebounds. Pridgett, a 6-5 guard who led UM with 21 points versus the Vandals in a game in which UM led 59-25 at halftime, entered with averages 12.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists.

What’s Next . . .

* Eastern returns home for a pair of games, including Saturday (Feb. 16) versus Northern Colorado in a game that starts at 2:05 p.m. Pacific time. The Eagles then face Idaho the following Monday (Feb. 18) in a President’s Day doubleheader with the Eagle and Vandal women’s teams. The women begin at 2:05 p.m., with the men’s game starting at approximately 4:15 p.m. or 30 minutes prior to the conclusion of the women’s contest.