Eastern takes care of SUU, moves back into tie for first place
CEDAR CITY, Utah — Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team went on to a 69-51 victory at Southern Utah on Thursday (Feb. 27) in a Big Sky Conference game in Cedar City, Utah.
The victory, coupled with a Montana loss at Northern Arizona and a Northern Colorado home win, means there is now a three-way tie for first in the league race at 13-4. Eastern won for the 11th time in its last 13 games and hit the 20-victory mark for just the fifth time in EWU’s 37-year history as a member of NCAA Division I.
At least one of the three teams will still be in first place when the smoke clears this Saturday (Feb. 29) when the Eagles and Bears tangle in Greeley, Colo.
“All you can hope for is to have a chance to win the championship with three games left in the season,” said Eastern head coach Shantay Legans. “You accomplish a little bit, but you want to accomplish everything. We want to go in there and play our best basketball, put our best foot forward and win another game.”
Magnuson finished with four treys in the game and had a key driving layin with 2:35 to play to finish with his best scoring game in over a month with 14 points. It was his only double figure scoring game in the last 12 games since finishing with 16 at Idaho on Jan. 16.
“Sometimes you need that, and sometimes you just need to let guys play,” said Legans. “We’ve been on him and he’s a freshman – he’s going to go through peaks and valleys and ups and downs. You have to make sure you’re confident in him – he’s our starting point guard and he’s our guy.”
Senior Mason Peatling paced EWU with 17 points and nine rebounds, and Jacob Davison scored 14 with a career-high nine boards. Sophomore Kim Aiken Jr. was the fourth Eagle in double figures with 12 points and had seven boards.
Defense and big advantages in rebounds and turnovers helped Eastern overcome a 33 percent shooting night, including just 8-of-37 from the 3-point stripe for 22 percent. Davison made just 3-of-20 shots and Aiken was 5-of-16.
But Eastern out-rebounded Southern Utah – the Big Sky’s top rebounding team statistically — 40-35 to move to 13-0 this season when EWU has a rebounding advantage. The Eagles held the Thunderbirds to 33 percent shooting and forced 14 turnovers while having just six themselves.
Eastern has already equaled the school’s fifth-highest win total in 37 seasons as a member of Division I, with the only seasons better than 18 wins coming in 2014-15 (26), 2016-17 (22) and 2017-18 (20) and 1985-86 (20). Eastern has also equaled the second-most wins in 33 seasons in the Big Sky, with the record set in 2014-15 with 14 victories.
Eastern used an early 5-0 run to take a lead it held the rest of the half, and eventually went up 19-10 with 9:32 left on a 3-pointer by Casson Rouse. But EWU would miss its next eight shots and not score again until the 5:04 mark – a total of 4:28 without a basket.
The Eagles would go on and lead at halftime 26-18, but it wasn’t pretty as both teams made less than 30 percent of their shots from the field. Eastern had its second-best defensive effort in a half this season by allowing just 18 points – fourth-best overall. But EWU also had its third-lowest scoring half of the year.
The Eagles were at 25 percent shooting in the second half and nursing a 38-34 lead when the Eagles finally got untracked. Magnuson hit his third 3-pointer of the half, then Aiken made a basket before Jack Perry completed an 8-2 run with a 3-pointer to put EWU up 46-36 at the 11:11 mark.
The Eagles led by as many as 13 and no less than nine the rest of the way. Eastern clinched the win by making its last eight free throws in the final 1:11, including six by Perry, who chipped in nine points in the win.