Eagles suffer first Big Sky loss at Idaho State

Eastern Washington will not play Florida Sept. 5 after the SEC goes conference-only
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Eastern Washington Eastern Washington will not play Florida Sept. 5 after the SEC goes conference-only

An off-shooting night kept the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball from recording a road sweep as Big Sky Conference play continued with a 75-69 loss at Idaho State Monday (Dec. 30) at Reed Gym in Pocatello, Idaho.

The Bengals, ranked ninth in NCAA Division in 3-point field goal percentage defense, held the Eagles to 25 percent from the arc in the game (6-of-24). Overall, Eastern sank just 42 percent to 59 percent for ISU. Eastern’s struggles extended to the free throw line where they were just 9-of-17 for 53 percent.

The Eagle trio of senior Mason Peatling, junior Jacob Davison and sophomore Kim Aiken Jr. combined for 53 of Eastern’s points, with junior Jack Perry chipping in 10. Aiken had his eighth double-double of the season and 11th of his career with 20 points and 10 boards, and Peatling finished with 19 points, six rebounds and a pair of blocked shots. Davison had 14 points and three assists.

Idaho State took the lead for good with 7:43 left in the first half, and scored seven points in the final 42 seconds of the game to preserve the win. Eastern pulled within two on several occasions in the second half, but couldn’t ever regain a lead and record a road sweep for the second year in a row at ISU and Weber State.

“I love that we went 1-1 on the road, but that’s not this team,” said Eastern head coach Shantay Legans. “We have a championship-caliber ball club. We are going to play that way from here on out – we are going to do a better job coaching, playing and preparing. We are going to come out and have a great practice on Wednesday when we get back.

“This is what can happen,” he continued. “You have to respect your opponent. Idaho State kicked us right in the teeth, and we have to be ready and prepared the next time.”

The game was a match-up of teams which won their league openers on Saturday (Dec. 28) by the slimmest of margins, with EWU’s 79-77 triumph over Weber State the only road breakthrough on the BSC’s opening day of action. Eastern took the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense to Pocatello to a face a Bengals team ranked in the top 10  in taking away the 3-point shot the Eagles rely on so heavily. Idaho State entered allowing opponents to hit just 26.3 percent of their shots from beyond the arc to rank ninth among all NCAA Division I schools.

The Eagles led 20-14 on a dunk by Davison with 11:20 to play in the first half, but EWU wouldn’t score again for 6:27 and fell behind 24-20 after a 10-0 Idaho State run.

Eastern were within two late in the half, but the Bengals sank three baskets in the last 2:08 and took a 37-30 halftime advantage. Idaho State out-shot Eastern 50 percent to 40 percent as the Eagles made just three of its last 14 shots, and sank just 3-of-10 3-pointers in the half.

The Eagles continued to struggle in the second half, but eventually pulled within 41-39 on a rebound basket by Peatling. But EWU once again had a draught, going 5:48 without a field goal and just over five minutes without a point as ISU surged ahead by five, and eventually took its biggest lead of the game at 60-51 with 4:46 left.

A four-point play by Perry with 2:23 left pulled EWU within 64-61 and a basket by Davison cut the lead to 68-66 with 47 seconds remaining. But ISU followed with a 3-pointer and two free throws to thwart the comeback.

Idaho State snapped EWU’s five-game winning streak in the series, and a four-game streak in Pocatello. The last time EWU has lost to the Bengals was on March 3, 2016, by a 75-71 score in Cheney.

A year ago, Eastern managed to end the season with a road sweep over the Wildcats (80-77) and Bengals (91-62), and now, oddly enough, EWU opened the 2019-20 league season on the road against those same two teams.