Eastern comes alive in second half to beat Montana State 71-58

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

BOZEMAN, Mont. — A hot start and hot finish was all it took for an all-important road sweep.

The Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team hit nine of its last 18 shots and then scored 11 points at the free throw line in the final 2:54 to beat Montana State 71-58 in a Big Sky Conference game Saturday (Jan. 18) at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse in Bozeman, Mont.

Junior Jacob Davison paced the Eagles with 26 points and also had five rebounds, five assists, and two steals. Senior Mason Peatling had a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds, and sophomore Tanner Groves had 11 points, four rebounds and three blocked shots. Sophomore Kim Aiken Jr. had only three free throws after an 0-of-7 shooting performance, but did finish with 13 rebounds, five steals and four assists.

Eastern is now 4-2 in the league and second behind 5-1 Montana after the road sweep, which included a 78-75 win over Idaho two days earlier. The two teams tied with EWU come to Reese Court this week – Eastern hosts Southern Utah on Jan. 25 at 2:05 p.m. Pacific time and Northern Colorado on Jan. 27 at 6:05 p.m.

“This says a lot about the basketball team we have,” said Eastern head coach Shantay Legans. “Kim didn’t make a field goal, but we still won on the road by 13. That is a sign of a good basketball club and a tough team.”

Eastern was shooting at a 33 percent clip early in the second half and was down by four, but used a 12-2 run over a six-minute stretch to take a 48-42 lead. Soon after that and leading by two, the Eagles scored 11 unanswered points and went up 59-46 at the 5:11 mark.

Three-point baskets by Davison and Groves sparked the big run, and Groves also added two more baskets. His short jumper with 5:11 left was the last field goal the Eagles attempted until Davison missed with 18 seconds left when the game was in hand.

By allowing only 58 points, Eastern had its second-best defensive effort of the season against a NCAA Division I opponent this season (third overall). The Bobcats were held to 37 percent shooting, including just 23 percent from the 3-point stripe (4-of-17). Montana State is coached by head coach Danny Sprinkle, who was the league’s Freshman of the Year in 1996 and was a three-time All-Big Sky selection for the Bobcats.

“One thing that always travels is your defense,” said Legans. “We did a good job of defending Harald Frey, and forced him into five turnovers. We gave them some issues and problems with some of our match-ups. You can shoot bad or miss some shots and still win. We didn’t shoot the ball great, but we did what we needed to do to win.”

Eastern used an early 9-0 to open an early 9-2 advantage. The Eagles led 18-6 and led the entire half until the 2:23 mark when MSU took the lead. But two baskets down the stretch by Peatling gave EWU a 34-30 halftime lead and EWU led by for 17:37 out of 20 minutes.

Eastern hit six of its first nine shots from the field, but suffered through a 3-of-18 shooting stretch, including a string of seven-straight misses. EWU sank 38 percent of its shots in the first half, including just 4-of-14 on 3-pointers, but also held MSU to 39.3 percent shooting.

Records . . .

* Eastern is now 11-6 on the season and 4-2 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 now 6-1 at home thus far, Eastern is 5-5 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 was coming off a 78-75 win at Idaho on Thursday night (Jan. 16) in which the Eagles took the lead for good on a Jack Perry 3-pointer – the 100th of his career — with 10.4 seconds to play. After arriving back in Cheney after midnight and a short night’s sleep in their own beds, the Eagles departed for Bozeman the next morning for the Saturday matinee in Bozeman.

* The Bobcats are now 9-9 overall and 3-4 in the Big Sky. The Bobcats were well-rested entering the EWU game with no contests on their schedule since falling at home to Portland State 77-76 on Jan. 11 in Bozeman. Montana State entered the game ranked 20th in NCAA Division I in 3-point field goal percentage defense (.282) to rank second in the Big Sky (Sacramento State leads at .271). Eastern was coming off a performance of 12 3-pointers against Idaho, the most by the Eagles in nearly a month. Against the Bobcats, EWU was 8-of-29 for 28 percent.

* With Southern Utah, Sacramento State and Idaho State all losing on Thursday night, Eastern helped itself by beating Idaho and Montana State. With just two games left to play on Jan. 18 (Idaho at Montana; Idaho State at Portland State), leading the league was Montana at 5-1, followed by EWU, Northern Colorado and Southern Utah at 4-2. Montana State, Sacramento State are all 3-4, and Idaho State is 3-3.

What’s Next . . .

* Eastern will return home to Reese Court on Jan. 25 to face Southern Utah, then will host Northern Colorado two days later. Those two schools are also among the upper echelon of the Big Sky, and will provide yet more tests for EWU. Southern Utah beat Sacramento State 74-49 on Jan. 18 to improve to 4-2 in the league and 11-6 mark overall. Northern Colorado is 4-2 in the league and 11-6 overall following a 64-58 home loss to Northern Arizona on Jan. 18, and plays at Idaho on Jan. 25 on the road before coming to Cheney.

Top Performers . . .

* Groves hit all four of his shots, and freshman redshirt Casson Rouse came off the bench to score four points for EWU. True freshman Ellis Magnuson scored four points on perfect 4-of-4 shooting from the free throw line, and also added three assists. Peatling had his fourth double-double of the season and 12th of his career in the victory, as EWU out-rebounded MSU 41-40. Eastern had a 22-18 advantage in the second half and is now 5-0 this season when it out-rebounds its opponent.