Eagles fall out of first place with loss at Montana

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

MISSOULA, Mont. — After a 67 percent shooting half that led to a 45-44 halftime lead, the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team went cold in the second half and fell out of first place in the Big Sky Conference standings with a 92-82 loss at Montana Thursday (Feb. 6) in Missoula, Mont.

Junior Jacob Davison scored 16 points of his game-high 34 points in a 5:25 stretch of the first half to help EWU overcome an 11-point deficit. He also scored five in a late 11-2 run that pulled EWU within two in the final seconds before Montana put the game away at the free throw line.

A total of 55 fouls were called in the game – 29 versus the Grizzlies and 26 against EWU — with a total of 53 free throws shot between the two teams. Eastern rallied from deficits of 11 points in the first half and 13 in the second half as its six-game winning streak dating back to the first Montana loss came to an end.

“The tougher team won today,” said Eastern head coach Shantay Legans, whose team suffered through a 2-of-11 shooting stretch early in the second half. “We have to figure out some of the things and plays we didn’t handle and do well. We are getting behind and doing things that are uncharacteristic of our prior play. We have to make sure we’re prepared for that moment. I hope we get them again – it will be fun.”

Eastern sank just 42 percent of its shots in the second half of the rematch of EWU’s 90-63 loss to the Grizzlies on Jan. 9 in Cheney. The Eagles trailed at halftime of that game 46-28 in the lone home loss of the season for EWU.

Senior Mason Peatling scored 20 and had seven rebounds for the Eagles, and redshirt freshman Casson Rouse came off the bench to score 11. Eastern fell to 8-3 in the Big Sky Conference while Montana regained first place and has a 9-3 record. Northern Colorado is also 8-3.

The game versus the Grizzlies was Eastern’s third road game in a six-day span, and EWU won the first two – 59-54 at Sacramento State on Feb. 1 and 77-66 at Northern Arizona on Feb. 3. Eastern flew from Arizona to Missoula on Feb. 4 in anticipation of one of EWU’s biggest games of the season. Eastern now returns home to face Montana State on Saturday (Feb. 8) at 2:05 p.m. Pacific time at Reese Court in Cheney, Wash.

Montana is the two-time defending Big Sky Conference champion, and EWU has missed out on NCAA Tournament berths by falling to the Grizzlies in both the 2018 (82-65) and 2019 (68-62) championship games of the league tournament. 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.

Eastern had eight turnovers in the first seven minutes, and Montana led early 7-0 and 21-10. But Davison got untracked, taking – and making – his first shot with 12:11 left in the half. He ended up scoring 16 points in a stretch of 5:26, and had 19 at intermission.

Included in Davison’s hot stretch were 12 points during a 20-4 deficit that helped Eastern turn an 11-point deficit into a six-point lead. The Eagles took their first lead on a dunk and three-point play by Davison with 7:14 left, then led 35-29 on a 3-pointer by Rouse with 4:50 to play.

At halftime, with a collective 25 fouls called on the two teams, Eastern led 45-44 after a basket by Peatling in the final seconds. In the first meeting, EWU trailed 46-28 at intermission, but this time the Eagles shot a blistering 66.7 percent from the field in spite of 11 first-half turnovers.

Peatling started the second half with a basket to give EWU the lead, but the Eagles would hit just two of their next 11 shots and fell behind 62-55 with 9:57 to play. A 9-0 run for the Grizzlies gave them a 12-point lead with 8:48 to play, and Montana led by as many as 13 and 12 with 4:45 to play.

But Davison hit a pair of 3-pointers, spurring a 11-2 run to pull EWU within two. His fast-break layin cut the lead to 84-80 with 1:10 left, then a blocked shot by Peatling led to his basket on a feed from Davison with 36 seconds remaining.

Montana sank a pair of free throws with 28 seconds left, then sealed it with six more in the last 11 seconds after EWU missed its last two shots of the game.