Hunt nearly has triple-double, Eagles hold off Weber State 80-77

Hunt nearly has triple-double, Eagles hold off Weber State 80-77

Senior Jesse Hunt had a near triple-double as the Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team ended the regular season with a huge 80-77 road victory over Weber State Saturday (March 9) in a battle of tied Big Sky Conference teams at the Dee Events Center in Ogden, Utah. It was just EWU’s seventh win in 37 tries in Ogden, but its third in the last four meetings there.

The victory secured the No. 3 seed for the Eagles in next week’s Big Sky Conference Tournament presented by My Place Hotels in Boise, Idaho. Eastern closed the regular season 12-8 in the Big Sky Conference and 14-17 overall, and won’t play until next Thursday (March 14) in the quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Pacific time. Official pairings will be announced by the Big Sky Conference later tonight at http://bigsky.conf.com. Weber State closed the regular season 11-9 in the league and 17-14 overall and will be the No. 4 or 5 seed.

“We beat a Weber State team which is one of the blue bloods in our league,” said Eastern head coach Shantay Legans of the Wildcats, who have won more than 20 Big Sky titles on their resume. “It was a great game and a fun game to be a part of. We have several more games to play, and we played terrific against Weber State. I couldn’t be more proud of this basketball team, and our assistant coaches did an amazing job this whole season getting our team prepared every step of the way. I couldn’t ask for a better staff and be happier than the outcome tonight.”

The win gave Eastern victories over every league team this season, as EWU opened the league season on Dec. 29 with an 84-72 home loss to the Wildcats. As has been commonplace this season, the game featured nine lead changes and eight ties, with Hunt and redshirt freshman Kim Aiken Jr. each sinking a pair of free throws in the final 22 seconds to secure the win. The Wildcats missed their last three shots of the game after taking their final lead with 1:09 to play.

Hunt finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists as he finished with his 12th double-double of the season. Mason Peatling scored 23, including 15 in the second half, after Aiken Jr. scored 15 of his 20 in the first half

“You gotta love our front line, and one of them is a freshman,” said Legans. “They played unbelievable basketball tonight. We did a really good job of playing really good basketball and playing hard as a team.”

The Eagles fell behind 12-0 after missing their first six shots, and didn’t score until 4:18 had elapsed in the game. But the Eagles, led by 15 first-half points by Aiken, rallied to hit 15 of their last 28 shots to finish the half at 44.1 percent. Weber State was at 43.8 percent, and made 7-of-12 3-pointers in the half to take a 42-40 halftime lead. Eastern hit five of its 13 3-point attempts, and used runs of 7-0, 11-3 and 9-2 to take its first lead of the game with 3:23 left.

Eastern sank 11 of its first 21 shots in the second half while WSU made just 2-of-10. A resulting 6-0 run gave Eastern a five-point led it extended to nine with a 9-0 run later in the half. Peatling sank a pair of baskets in the latter run, and his 3-pointer gave EWU a 66-57 lead with 7:49 to play.

The Wildcats, though, went on a 12-4 run to cut the lead to one, and eventually took back the lead with 1:09 left with a pair of free throws. But WSU missed its last three shots, and EWU followed the first miss with two free throws by Hunt with 22 ticks left. After Weber’s second miss, Aiken calmly sank a pair with 4.8 seconds remaining before Weber missed a 40-foot 3-point attempt at the buzzer.

Records . . .

* The Eagles are now 14-17 overall, and 12-8 in Big Sky Conference play. The Eagles are 10-4 at home this season and 4-13 on the road with a three-game winning streak. Eastern won 11 of its last 16 games in league play, and is 13-8 overall since starting the season 1-9. This is the fourth-straight year Eastern has recorded 10 league wins or more, and the sixth-straight year they have had a winning record. Eastern is 65-29 in those six years for a .691 winning percentage.

* Weber State closed the regular season 11-9 in the league and 17-14 overall. Earlier this season, the Eagles fell at home to Weber State 84-72 on Dec. 29. The Wildcats have lost eight of their last 12 after a 7-1 start to league play,

What’s Next . . .

* As the No. 3 seed, EWU will play at 7 p.m. Pacific time on March 14 versus the winner of an opening-round game between the No. 6 seed (Portland State or Montana State) and No. 11 Idaho. The 2019 Big Sky Conference Tournament presented by My Place Hotels will take place at CenturyLink Arena in Boise, Idaho

Top Performers . . .

* Senior Jesse Hunt had 22 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, and sank 8-of-16 shots from the field with a pair of 3-pointers and 4-of-6 free throws. He now has 31 career double-figure scoring performances in his career to go along with 17 performances with 10 or more rebounds. He has 12 double-doubles on the season and 14 in his career.

* Junior Mason Peatling hit 9-of-14 field goal attempts and 3-of-4 free throws to finish with 23 points after having 25 in the first meeting with the Wildcats. An honorable mention All-Big Sky selection a year ago, he has 29 career games scoring in double figures, with nine rebounding in double figures. He has two double-doubles this season and eight in his career.

* Redshirt freshman Kim Aiken Jr. made 6-of-11 from the field, 3-of-6 from the 3-point arc and all five of his free throws to finish with 20 points, eight rebounds and a pair of steals. He came four points from his season best of 24 against Southern Utah on Feb. 2. He has six double-figure scoring performances this season and two with at least 10 rebounds.

* Junior guard Tyler Kidd was held to three points on 1-of-8 shooting and also had three assists. He has scored in double figures 14 times, all coming in EWU’s last 21 games.

* Sophomore Jack Perry chipped in six points and had a season-high six assists, coming one from his career high of seven set last season as a freshman.

* Senior Cody Benzel scored 30 points in his previous game two nights earlier versus Idaho State, but he finished with just one shot attempt and no points versus Weber State. He did have a game-high three steals.

* 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 . . .

* Finishing at 45.9 percent for the game, EWU is now 12-1 this season when it makes at least 45 percent of its shots from the field (3-0 at 50 percent or better) and 2-16 when it doesn’t. Eastern also made 11-of-25 3-point shots for 44.0 percent. Weber State had entered the game as the top Big Sky team in defensive field goal percentage overall (.429) and from the 3-point line (.312). In league games only, those marks were .429 and .300, respectively,

* Eastern had a 39-33 rebounding advantage. Eastern has out-rebounded 12 of its last 15 opponents after having advantages in just two of its first 16 games. The Eagles are 11-3 when they out-rebound opponents and 3-14 when having less or tied.

Notables . . .

* The Eagles have won five of their last nine games against an opponent EWU was 20-45 against prior to that. Eastern is 25-49 all-time against Weber State, including a 7-30 road record, 16-18 mark at home and 3-3 record in the Big Sky Conference Tournament. The Eagles won the lone meeting versus the Wildcats in the 2017-18 season, winning 75-70 in Ogden to snap WSU’s nine-game winning streak. The year before, Eastern was 1-2 versus Weber State, falling 70-67 in Ogden, Utah, on Jan. 14, 2017, and winning 82-72 on Feb. 23, 2017, in Cheney to move into a second-place tie with the Wildcats in the league standings. They met again in the Big Sky Conference Tournament semifinals and Wildcats won the rubber match 80-71. Eastern has played the Wildcats in the Big Sky Tournament on six occasions, including a 3-1 record in semifinal matchups. Eastern won in the 1990 semis in Boise 83-67, won in the 2002 semis in Bozeman 62-57, lost in the 2003 championship game in Ogden 60-57, won in the 2004 semis in Cheney 72-53 and lost in the 2011 quarterfinals in Ogden 79-70.
* After losing its first nine road games of the season, Eastern has won its last three and four of its last five to move to 4-13 on the season. Eastern finished 10-4 at home at Reese Court this season, and is 56-10 overall there in the last four-plus seasons (85 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 Hunt’s Production: “We lost Jacob a few games ago, and Jesse has picked up his production. But he’s doing it within the offense and not forcing anything. He’s playing great basketball and making plays when they need to be made. He’s rebounding and had eight assists against Weber State – to come close to a triple-double was an amazing way for a senior to end the regular season.”

On Aiken: “Kim is our utility guy. We can put him on anyone on the court and he defended three of their best players tonight. He’s playing really good basketball and think about it, he’s a freshman. He came up big in the biggest game of our season to try to get third place. He came to us and asked to guard Jerrick Harding. You have to be excited and happy for him.”

On Keys to Win: “The key was getting defensive stops and our players doing what we asked of them. And we made plays — you just have to let your guys go make plays and just play basketball. I’m not joy-sticking the game – they have to go make the plays and they did a great job tonight.”

On Wildcats: “We gave Weber State the lead – the came out and played great basketball and fought. They are a good club and they could possibly win the whole thing. They have pieces all over the court.”

Pairings for 2019 Big Sky Conference Tournament Presented by My Place Hotels
CenturyLink Arena — Boise, Idaho — Times Pacific

Wednesday, March 13 (First Round – 8:30am/TBD/TBD): Game 1 – No. 8 vs. No. 9; Game 2 – No. 7 vs. No. 10; Game 3 – No. 6 Seed vs. No. 11 Idaho.

Thursday, March 14, 2019 (Quarterfinals – 11am/1:30pm/4:30pm/7pm): Game 4 – No. 1 vs. G1 Winner; Game 5 – No. 4 vs. No. 5; Game 6 – No. 2 vs. G2 Winner; Game 7 – No. 3 Eastern Washington vs. G3 Winner.

Friday, March 15, 2019 (Semifinals – 4:30pm/7pm): Game 8 – G4 Winner vs. G5 Winner; Game 9 – G6 Winner vs. G7 Winner.

Saturday, March 16, 2019 (on ESPNU): Game 10 – Championship Game, 5 p.m.