Eagles lead for final 24:47 in 85-81 win over Bobcats

Eagles lead for final 24:47 in 85-81 win over Bobcats

The numbers of the day were eight, 57.9 and 316, but 24:47 was sweetest of all.

The Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team shot a season-best 57.9 percent from the floor and held off Montana State 85-81 Saturday (Jan. 19) in a historic Big Sky Conference showdown at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

The Eagles led for the final 24:47 of the game, and had its second-best point total of the season against a NCAA Division I opponent. After having a full eight days off between games, the Eagles sank half of its shots for only the second time this season – and in consecutive games – and finished with 12 3-pointers. The Eagles sank 52.9 percent of its shots to knock off preseason favorite Montana 78-71 on Jan. 10 in their last outing.

“To see the hard work by our players and staff pay off makes me happy as a coach,” said Eastern head coach Shantay Legans , whose team won for the fourth time in seven games and evened its league record to 3-3. “It was huge the way we came out and played offensively – we haven’t really had an offensive game like that. I know it’s in us because we have a lot of good offensive players. Seeing that payoff is big-time.”

Sophomore Jacob Davison led four Eagles in double figures with 23 points, and senior Jesse Hunt had a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Junior Tyler Kidd had a career-best 17 points – 15 of them in the first half – and junior Mason Peatling added 13.

The number 316 is the number of days the historic Big Sky Conference record broken by former Eagle Bogdan Bliznyuk lasted until being broken Saturday at Reese Court by Montana State’s Tyler Hall. He scored 26 against the Eagles to take over as the leader in the 56-year history of the league with a current total of 2,194. The record was 2,169, with Bliznyuk originally breaking the record on March 9, 2018, in a semifinal victory over Southern Utah at the Big Sky Conference Tournament.

With Hall scoring 19 first-half points, the Bobcats led much of the first half before Eastern’s defense forced MSU to miss seven of nine shots. That enabled the Eagles to take the lead for good at the 4:47 mark, then 43-37 with 1:19 left in the half on a 3-pointer by Davison. The Eagles led at intermission 45-42 with a 58 percent shooting half, including 7-of-16 3-point shooting.

In the second half, Eastern used an 8-3 run with 3-pointers by Kim Aiken Jr. and Hunt to lead 63-53 with 14:06 to play. A 9-0 MSU run made it a nip-and-tuck affair the rest of the game, with MSU’s Keljin Blevins missing a potential tying 3-pointer in the final seconds.

Hall entered the game averaging 19.2 points, and junior guard Harald Frey entered averaging 14.9. But Eastern held Frey to nine on the night.

Records . . .

* The Eagles are 5-12, and 3-3 in Big Sky Conference play. Besides beating pre-season favorite Montana 78-71 on Jan. 10, Eastern beat Idaho State 65-55 on Dec. 31 for its other league win thus far.

* The Bobcats are now 7-10 overall and 4-3 in the Big Sky Conference, having won three games of their last four games heading into the game versus EWU.

What’s Next . . .

* Eastern plays a pair of games on the road next week, starting Thursday (Jan. 24) at Portland State at 7:05 p.m. The Eagles play at Sacramento State two days later, also at 7:05 p.m. The Vikings are 1-5 in the league and 6-11 overall following a 82-75 loss at Northern Arizona on Saturday. The Hornets are 1-5 in the league and 7-8 overall thus far after Saturday’s 76-71 loss versus Southern Utah. Sac State will host Idaho prior to playing the Eagles. The Eagles are 0-of-9 on the road this season.

Top Performers . . .

* Jacob Davison had his fourth career game with at least 20 points, finishing with 23 to come two from his career high. He sank 9-of-14 shots from the field with a pair of 3-pointers, and also had three steals, three assists, three rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.
* Junior guard Tyler Kidd had 17 points and four assists as he made the second start of his EWU career after coming off the bench in the first 12 games he played this season. He exceeded his previous career high by three points, taking him less than 15 minutes in the game to exceed his previous high of 14 versus Corban on Dec. 21. He has now scored in double figures five times, all coming in EWU’s last seven games.
* Senior Jesse Hunt finished with 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field and 4-of-5 from the 3-point stripe, and he also had 10 rebounds. He now has five double-doubles on the season and six in his career. He has had 20 career double-figure scoring performances in his career to go along with nine performances with 10 or more rebounds.
* Junior Mason Peatling chipped in 13 points and six rebounds. He now has 20 career games scoring in double figures, with six rebounding in double figures and five double-doubles.
* Redshirt freshman Kim Aiken Jr. came off the bench to play 12 minutes and going a perfect 3-of-3 from the field with a pair of 3-pointers. He finished with eight points, four rebounds and two blocked shots.

Key Stats . . .

* Despite the long layoff, Eastern made 17 of its first 27 shots for a blistering 63 percent, and went on to out-shoot MSU 57.9 percent to 46.0 percent. The Eagles finished 12-of-26 from the 3-point stripe for 46.2 percent, compared to 9-of-22 (40.9 percent) for the Bobcats. Eastern was out-scored in points off turnovers 18-5 and second-chance points 14-8, but still out-rebounded the Bobcats 34-31. Eastern has had a rebounding advantage in just three games this season (record of 2-1), and is now 5-0 this season when making at least 45.0 percent of its shots and 0-12 when it doesn’t.

Notables . . .

* Eastern improved to 5-3 at Reese Court this season with the wins over Montana and Montana State. The Eagles are 51-9 overall there in the last four-plus seasons (85 percent). In the previous four seasons, EWU has gone 46-6 at Reese Court, including an 11-1 mark last season and 15-1 record in 2016-17.

* Eastern has now won 10 of the last 13 meetings against MSU, including an 84-79 Eagle victory at home in 2018. Prior to that, EWU lost to the Bobcats 91-90 in overtime on Jan. 28, 2017, in Bozeman. Eastern has won 20 of the last 32, and is 12-3 at home in that span. Eastern, in fact, has not lost to the Bobcats at Reese Court since a 60-56 Bobcat win on Feb. 24, 2011. The Eagles are 41-45 all-time against MSU, including a 33-36 record as a member of NCAA Division I (23-12 in Cheney, 10-24 in Bozeman). The records include two MSU forfeits in the 1993-94 season.

Comments from Head Coach Shantay Legans . . .

On Win: “Our guys stayed focused and tough. Those nine days between games really helped us get a good feel for each other. We are doing things now we should have been doing in October and early November. You find out a lot about your team on the fly, but as we keep moving forward we need to peak at the right time. Our team is getting better and the players are building more confidence. They are understanding there is some freedom to go make plays. It takes confidence, but it also takes understanding roles and what the coaching staff is looking for. The preseason for me is to see what guys can do when competition is there. We want to find out if players are ready, but when you play guys out of position like we were because of injuries, it’s hard to get a good feel for that. It’s important to see players in the correct positions and understanding shot selection. As they understand their roles we’ve seen the percentages go up.”