Eagles surge past Portland State for 71-69 win

Eastern Washington's Mason Peatling posts up Portland State defender in 71-69 victory
Eastern Washington's Mason Peatling posts up Portland State defender in 71-69 victory.

CHENEY, Wash. — The energy was electrifying in a game between the top two scoring teams in the Big Sky Conference.

The Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team got untracked in the second half and improved to 6-0 at home this season when it beat Portland State 71-69 in a Big Sky Conference game Saturday (Jan. 4) at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

The Eagles used a frenetic 13-5 run in the final nine minutes to take the lead for good and overcome PSU’s final advantage of the game. Eastern led by as many as 10 with 2:09 to play in a battle of teams averaging a combined 165 points per game.

It was the first of two-straight home games for the Eagles, who host Montana on Thursday, Jan. 9 at 6:05 p.m., in a battle of teams which have advanced to the last two Big Sky Tournament championship games.

“As the games keep coming and we keep fighting, every game is going to be this way,” said Eastern head coach Shantay Legans. “Games are going to come down to important possessions, and the PSU game came down to one possession and we came out victorious. The league is going to be a lot of fun, and up and down like this one.”

Junior Jacob Davison paced the Eagles with 26 points, with senior Mason Peatling and sophomore Kim Aiken Jr. each contributing double-doubles. Peatling finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds and Aiken had 15 of each.

The Eagles finished the game shooting at 49 percent, making 11 of their last 16 shots (69 percent) after a 19-of-45 start (42 percent). Portland State, the NCAA Division I leader in offensive rebounds, finished with 12 but had just a 10-9 advantage in second-chance points. Eastern led in points in the paint 46-30 and fast-break points 21-9.

Eastern had a 41-38 rebounding advantage and held PSU to 39 percent shooting in the game. However, EWU made just 5-of-25 3-pointers (20.0 percent), compared to 25-of-36 (69 percent) inside the arc.

Portland State used a pair of early 8-0 runs to open an 11-point advantage. But Davison scored 14 of EWU’s last 16 points – including a run of 10-straight — helping EWU pull within 32-30 at halftime.

The Eagles made just 2-of-12 shots from the 3-point line in the first half, but were 10-of-17 inside the arc to finish at 41 percent for the half. Portland State made only 34 percent, but had seven offensive boards in the opening 20 minutes. The Vikings made just one of its last seven shots and has just one field goal in the final six minutes.

After leading for only 45 seconds in the first half, EWU took the lead after intermission on a 3-pointer by Aiken and a basket by Davison. After PSU regained a five-point lead, the Eagles got hot.
Eastern was down by two when the Eagles went on a 13-5 run, started by a basket by Peatling. Aiken had a 3-pointer and Davison hit a pair – including two fast-break dunks – to put EWU on top 63-57 with 5:29 to play. The Eagles made 6-of-7 shots in that stretch.

The Eagles led by 10, but PSU battled back and took advantage of a pair of late Eagle turnovers and the missed front end of a one-plus-one bonus opportunity to have a chance to take the lead. But the Vikings missed a 3-point attempt and Peatling rebounded with three seconds left to secure the win.
“We want to keep getting our players to understand what it takes to win these ballgames,” added Legans. “I think we are getting there — we are having a good season so far. But we have to do the things that win games, and making free throws is huge.”

Records . . .

* Eastern is now 9-5 on the season and 2-1 in the league, including 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 a perfect 6-0 at home thus far, Eastern is 3-5 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.

* Eastern beat Weber State 79-77 in its Big Sky opener, with three Eagles scoring in double figures in the victory. Then, the Eagles dropped a 75-69 decision at Idaho State in which EWU’s inconsistent shooting kept them from garnering a lead the last 27 1/2 minutes.

* Portland State is 1-3 in the Big Sky and 7-9 overall after a 72-61 loss at Idaho on and an 83-81 home loss to Southern Utah on Dec. 30. Prior to its current three-game losing streak, Portland State had won four of its last five games after a 3-5 start, including a 76-66 road victory at Loyola Marymount on Dec. 19. The Vikings followed that by opening the league season with a 69-65 triumph over Northern Colorado to open Big Sky Conference play.

* Besides leading the nation in offensive rebounds per game (15.6), Portland State is 51st nationally and second in the league in steals (8.5, EWU is first at 8.6). The Vikings average 78.1 points per game to rank 51st in NCAA Division I and second in the league behind EWU’s 87.1 average.

What’s Next . . .
* Eastern faces two-time defending Big Sky Conference champion Montana on Thursday, Jan. 9, at Reese Court. The Eagles have fallen to the Grizzlies in the last two championship games of the league tournament, and 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.
* The Grizzlies, 7-7 entering Saturday’s game at Northern Colorado, opened the league season with home victories versus Northern Arizona (79-72) and Sacramento State (52-50) and a road win at Southern Utah (60-58). Senior guard Sayeed Pridgett was this week’s Big Sky Conference Men’s Basketball Ready Nutrition Player of the Week after averaging 20.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.5 steals in UM’s league sweep, including a double-double of 27 points and 10 boards against NAU. For the season, he leads UM with averages of 19.3 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.1 steals per game. Kendal Manuel averages 13.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists.

Top Performers . . .

* True freshman point guard Ellis Magnuson had nine assists for EWU – just two from his career high of 11. Aiken had his ninth double-double of the season and 13th in his career, finishing with 15 points, 15 rebounds, two blocked shots and four assists. Peatling had his third double-double of the year and 11th in his career with 20 points, 13 boards and two blocks.