Eastern holds Northern Arizona to 33 shooting in 86-73

Seven Eagles combine for season-high 14 3-pointers
Eastern holds Northern Arizona to 33 shooting in 86-73

Talk about stepping up.

Five players scored at least eight points, including a pair with double-doubles, as the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team picked up its second road win of the season with an 86-73 victory over Northern Arizona Saturday (Feb. 23) at the Walkup Skydome in snowbound Flagstaff, Ariz.

Seven players combined for a season-high 14 three-pointers for the Eagles, who led by double digits for 22 of the last 23 minutes of the game. Eastern’s defense did its part by having season best performances in holding NAU to 33.3 percent shooting overall (21-of-63) and 12.5 percent from the 3-point stripe (3-of-24).

Redshirt freshman Kim Aiken Jr. had a double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds, with senior Jesse Hunt contributing his ninth of the season with 16 points and 11 rebounds to go along with five assists. Tyler Kidd led the way with 19 points for the Eagles, and senior Ty Gibson equaled his season high with 16 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the 3-point stripe. Senior Cody Benzel added a pair of 3-pointers to finish with eight points after going his last five games without scoring.

After sweeping second-place Northern Colorado and last-place Idaho a week ago at home, Eastern stumbled in a 76-62 loss at Southern Utah last Thursday. Eastern was out-shot 47 percent to 36 percent, and was out-rebounded by 12, but reversed that performance versus NAU.

“That’s what it looks like when you play with energy and toughness,” said Eastern head coach Shantay Legans . “We didn’t quite have that last Thursday, but they showed character today and got a huge road win by the way they fought and played. They played together and you could see the intensity.

“Everybody came in and played a huge role in the game,” he continued. “We shot the ball well and had a season-high for 3-pointers, and 14 is a great number for us. We had a horrible defensive performance against Southern Utah, but we held NAU to 33 percent. We did a lot of good things, and I’m proud of the way we played.”

Eastern did all that despite playing its third-straight game without Jacob Davison , who scored 41 points in an 82-64 home win over NAU on Feb. 4. And because of weather and bus mechanical issues, the team didn’t arrive to the game until 1 1/2 hours prior to tipoff.

Coupled with Southern Utah’s 85-76 victory over Idaho, Eastern still is in fifth in the Big Sky at 9-7, a half-game ahead of the Thunderbirds at 9-8. Eastern has won eight of its last 12 games in league play, and is 10-7 since starting the season 1-9.

Eastern used a 9-0 run on a 3-pointer by Hunt and two more by Gibson to open a double-digit lead in the first half. A 3-pointer by Tanner Groves with 3:13 left in the half helped EWU take a double-digit lead it wouldn’t surrender until the game’s final minutes.

Eastern led 41-29 at halftime and made seven 3-pointers in each half. The Eagles led by as many as 20 early in the second half, but only sub-par free throw shooting after intermission (7-of-15) and making just one of their last nine shots kept the score close.

Since Wednesday night, Flagstaff has had to deal with 40 inches of snow leading to temporary closures of the two main Interstate highways that intersect the city. Eastern stayed Friday in Phoenix, Ariz., and, after the storm eases, made the 2 1/2 hour bus drive to Flagstaff in better weather conditions on Saturday. However, the team’s bus broke down twice on the way, and EWU arrived just 1 1/2 hours prior to tipoff.

Records . . .

* The Eagles are now 11-16 overall, and 9-7 in Big Sky Conference play, and remain in fifth place in the league standings. The Eagles are 9-3 at home this season and 2-13 on the road, with the lone victory away from home coming at Sacramento State 94-92 in overtime on Jan. 26.

* The Lumberjacks are 7-10 in the league and 9-18 overall, and were coming off a 75-54 victory Thursday versus Idaho. Earlier this season, Eastern edged Southern Utah 82-79 before beating NAU 82-64 in a game in which Jacob Davison scored 41 points for the Eagles. Davison, though, has missed EWU’s last three games with an ankle injury.

What’s Next . . .

* Eastern will play its final two home games of the season on Feb. 28 versus Sacramento State at 6:05 p.m. Pacific time and March 2 versus Portland State on Senior Day at 2:05 p.m. Earlier this season, Eastern lost on the road at Portland State 78-65 before rebounding two days later for EWU’s first road win of the season at Sacramento State by a 94-92 score in overtime. Eastern is now 2-13 on opponent home courts, but is 9-3 at Reese Court where the Eagles have a seven-game winning streak.

Top Performers . . .

* Junior guard Tyler Kidd led EWU in scoring with 19, and also had four rebounds and a pair of assists. He has scored in double figures 12 times, all coming in EWU’s last 17 games.

* Senior Jesse Hunt finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, and made 9-of-10 from the free throw line. He now has 27 career double-figure scoring performances in his career to go along with 14 performances with 10 or more rebounds. He has nine double-doubles on the season and 11 in his career.

* Redshirt freshman Kim Aiken Jr had his second double-double with 11 points and a career-high 14 rebounds. He now has four double-figure scoring performances of the season and two with at least 10 rebounds. His previous high for boards was 11 against Southern Utah on Feb. 2.

* Junior Mason Peatling chipped in six points and had eight rebounds. An honorable mention All-Big Sky selection a year ago, he has 26 career games scoring in double figures, with nine rebounding in double figures. He has two double-doubles this =season and eight in his career.

* Sophomore Jacob Davison has not played since suffering an ankle injury versus Northern Colorado on Feb. 16. Before scoring 13 against the Bears, he had scored at least 20 points in six of his last seven games, and eight total this season (nine in his career). He’s had 15 performances in double-digits (25 in his career).

Key Stats . . .

* For the first time this season, Eastern shot less than 45 percent from the field and won a game. The Eagles sank 41.7 percent from the field and made 14-of-33 free throws. The previous high for treys for the Eagles was 13 on four occasions. Eastern is now 10-1 this season when it makes at least 45 percent of its shots from the field (3-0 at 50 percent or better) and 1-15 when it doesn’t.

* The Eagles had season-best defensive performances in holding NAU to 33.3 percent shooting overall and 12.5 percent from the 3-point stripe. The previous lows were 33.9 percent in the first meeting with NAU on Feb. 4, and a 17.6 percent performance by Syracuse in EWU’s season opener.

* Eastern finished with a 44-40 rebounding advantage and has out-rebounded eight of its last 11 opponents after having advantages in just two of its first 16 games. The Eagles are 8-2 when they out-rebound opponents and 3-14 when having less or tied.

Notables . . .

* Eastern has won 12 of the last 15 versus Northern Arizona, but trails in the all-time series versus NAU 35-37 (11-23 in Flagstaff, 22-12 in Cheney, 2-2 neutral). Eastern has won the last eight meetings in Cheney dating back to a 73-69 loss on Jan. 15, 2010. The only meeting before Eastern became a member of NCAA Division I was an 84-80 NAU victory on Dec. 20, 1969, in Fresno, Calif. Eastern is 3-1 in the Big Sky Conference Tournament versus NAU, winning 74-52 in the 2016 first round; 71-59 in the 2004 championship game in Cheney; and 58-53 in the 2001 semifinals. Eastern also fell 82-65 in the 2000 semifinals in Missoula.

* Senior guard Cody Benzel hit a pair of 3-pointers to move into sole possession of fourth in school history with 186 3-pointers in his career. Benzel moved ahead of Marc Axton on EWU’s all-time leaders list (184 from 2002-05). Senior teammate Ty Gibson is 10th with 145. Both of them have played in more than 100 games for the Eagles, with current totals of 128 (tie for second in school history) and 123 (tie for fifth) games of experience, respectively. Jesse Hunt is right behind with 110 games played.

* Eastern is now 9-3 at home at Reese Court with a seven-game winning streak, and is 55-9 overall there in the last four-plus seasons (86 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.

More Comments from Head Coach Shantay Legans . . .

On Double-Doubles by Aiken and Hunt: “They had huge games, and Mason played solid and was great on defense. Jesse and Kim came out and played terrific basketball tonight. Tanner Groves had some good minutes and hit a big 3-pointer that really stretched them out on defense. Playing inside-out is the way we are going to have to play until Jacob (Davison) gets back.”

On Defense: “Your offense doesn’t always travel, but your defense and effort go everywhere. If you play defense, rebound and play your tails off, it’s going to show on the scoreboard. We could have been in a game in the 40’s or 50’s, but we shot the lights out tonight. When we can combine that with defense we have a really good team and can really challenge for a tournament championship when we get to Boise. The way we can play and defend, if we are clicking on all cylinders I really have a lot of confidence in our ballclub.”