POCATELLO, Idaho - The Eagles are proud of their inside game, but Thursday (March 7) they had a deft touch from the outside to help them earn a first-round bye in the Big Sky Conference Tournament.
Eagle senior Cody Benzel had career highs of 30 points and eight 3-pointers, and the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team used a big second half to roll to a 91-62 win at Idaho State in Pocatello, Idaho.
Eastern hit a season-high 15 3-pointers in the game on 36 attempts (41.7 percent), while the Bengals were just 2-of-14. Eastern sophomore Jack Perry made four of the treys and finished with 12 points. Entering the game, Benzel had scored just 14 points in the last 10 games and hadn't scored in double figures since Jan. 3. Perry hadn't scored at least 10 since Jan. 10.
"You root for Cody – he does everything we ask of him and is our glue guy," said Eastern head coach Shantay Legans. "Besides being a great shooter, he's a good defender and does everything our team needs."
Leading by just two at halftime, Eastern started the second half with runs of 11-0 and 11-3 to open a 20-point lead, and led by as many as 31. The Eagles out-scored the Bengals 49-22 after intermission with EWU's best scoring half of the year. Eastern also dominated in rebounds 36-28, despite falling behind in the first half 15-5.
Senior Jesse Hunt had his 11th double-double of the season, finishing with 14 points and 16 rebounds. Junior Mason Peatling had 14 points and junior Tyler Kidd chipped in eight.
"We have the best shooters in the league I believe," Legans added. "When we get opportunities against the zone, we lock-in on that and have confidence. We made the extra passes against Idaho State, and I think we had more than 15 assists. We played great team basketball with four guys in double figures and had other players contributing in a number of different ways."
Perhaps most importantly, the win secured EWU's 11th victory of the season and clinched a first-round bye in the Big Sky Conference Tournament presented by My Place Hotels on March 13-16 in Boise, Idaho. With one game left to play at Weber State on Saturday, Eastern is currently tied with Montana State and Weber State in the league at 11-8.
Eastern could still finish as high as third with a win because of tiebreaker advantages over Montana State. And with Portland State and Montana State playing each other on Saturday, even with a loss to Weber State Eastern is guaranteed to finish at worst in a three-way tie with MSU and PSU. The tiebreaker for a three-way tie (all three would be 1-1 versus each other) would depend on whether Montana or Northern Colorado finish as the regular season winner (both are 15-4). If Montana wins, PSU would finish fourth (2-0 versus UM), EWU would be fifth (1-1) and MSU would be sixth (1-3). If UNC wins the title, EWU would be fourth (1-1 versus UNC and 1-1 versus UM), with MSU fifth (1-1 versus UNC and 0-2 versus UM), and PSU would be sixth (0-2 versus UNC).
The first half included four ties and five lead changes, with the Bengals hitting 53.3 percent of their shots to trail just 42-40 at halftime. Benzel scored 15 points and Peatling had 12 at intermission. Included was an eight-point possession for the Eagles, which included a technical foul on Idaho State.
The second half was a different story, as EWU sank 56 percent from the field and ISU made just 30 percent and missed all seven of its 3-point attempts. Eastern started the half on an 11-1 run and opened a double-digit lead at 53-41 with 15:50 left in the game. The Bengals never trailed by less than 11 the rest of the way as EWU eventually went up by 20 with 6:08 left and 25 with 3:28 to play.
Records . . .
* The Eagles are now 13-17 overall, and 11-8 in Big Sky Conference play. The Eagles are 10-4 at home this season and 3-13 on the road.
* Idaho State team was coming off a 78-74 victory at home over Weber State on Monday (March 4). The Bengals are now 6-13 in the Big Sky and 10-18 overall. Eastern beat the Bengals 65-55 in Cheney on Dec. 31.
* Through Thursday's games in the league, Eastern currently stands in a three-way tie for third in the league with Weber State and Montana State (11-8). Montana and Northern Colorado are tied for first in the league standings at 15-4. The Grizzlies and Bears are followed by EWU, Montana State and Weber State at 11-8, followed by Portland State (10-9) and Southern Utah (9-11). The bottom teams are Sacramento State (8-11), Northern Arizona (7-12), Idaho State (6-13) and Idaho (2-17).
What's Next . . .
* Eastern closes the regular season at Weber State on March 9. Weber State is now 10-8 in the league and 16-13 on the season after a 93-59 home victory over Idaho on Thursday. The Wildcats have lost seven of their last 11 after a 7-1 start to league play. Earlier this season, the Eagles fell at home to Weber State 84-72 on Dec. 29 before rebounding for a 65-55 victory over ISU two days
Saturday, March 9: Northern Arizona at Northern Colorado, 4:05 p.m. (Pluto TV 241); Eastern Washington at Weber State, 6:05 p.m. (Pluto TV 235); Idaho at Idaho State, 6:05 p.m. (Pluto TV 243); Montana State at Portland State, 7:05 p.m. (Pluto TV 232); Montana at Sacramento State, 7:05 p.m. (Pluto TV 233).
Top Performers . . .
* Senior Cody Benzel made 9-of-17 shots overall, including 8-of-15 from the 3-point arc to finish with 30 points. His previous career high for scoring was 25 points on Jan. 6, 2018, versus Sacramento State and his had previously made seven treys four times previously. It was his fifth game of the season scoring in double figures, but first since scoring 10 at Idaho on Jan. 3. He had scored just 35 points total in the 15 games since then.
* Senior Jesse Hunt had 14 points and 16 rebounds to come just one from his career high. He now has 30 career double-figure scoring performances in his career to go along with 16 performances with 10 or more rebounds. He has 11 double-doubles on the season and 13 in his career.
* Junior Mason Peatling hit 4-of-5 field goal attempts and 6-of-8 free throws to finish with 14 points. An honorable mention All-Big Sky selection a year ago, he has 28 career games scoring in double figures, with nine rebounding in double figures. He has two double-doubles this season and eight in his career.
* Junior guard Tyler Kidd hit a pair of 3-pointers to finish with eight points and five assists. He has scored in double figures 14 times, all coming in EWU's last 20 games.
* Sophomore Jack Perry hit 4-of-9 of his 3-point attempts and finished with 12 points and four assists in 18 minutes of action. It was his fourth double-figure scoring performance of the season, but first in his last 14 games since scoring 12 in a home win over Montana on Jan. 10.
* 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 49.2 percent for the game, EWU is now 11-1 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. Defensively, Eastern held the Bengals to just two 3-pointers, well-below the 8.9 they were averaging on the season to rank second in league-games only behind Montana State at 9.6. Overall, the Bengals averaged 9.3 to rank second behind Northern Colorado at 9.5. Eastern entered the game averaging 8.6 in league play (fourth) and 8.9 on the season (fourth).
* Eastern had a dominating 36-28 rebounding advantage – 31-13 after opening the game with a 15-5 deficit. Eastern has out-rebounded 11 of its last 14 opponents after having advantages in just two of its first 16 games. The Eagles are 10-3 when they out-rebound opponents and 3-14 when having less or tied.
Notables . . .
* Eastern is now 48-29 all-time against ISU, including a 45-28 record since becoming a member of NCAA Division I in the 1983-84 season (16-19 on the road, 28-8 at home, 1-1 at neutral sites). The Eagles have won 16 of the last 18 meetings overall and 14 of the last 15 at Reese Court. Eastern swept the Bengals this season, and a year ago Eastern triumphed in Pocatello 74-69 in the lone meeting between the two schools. Eastern had an overall eight-game winning streak snapped in the 2013-14 season when the Bengals prevailed 72-83 in Pocatello. Eastern won 65-57 at home in the 2014-15 season, extending EWU's home winning streak versus ISU to 13 games dating back to a 65-63 loss on March 1, 2003. Eastern also won later in the year in Pocatello by an 85-81 score, but then lost its home-court winning streak in the lone meeting in 2015-16 with a 75-71 loss at Reese Court.
* After losing its first nine road games of the season, Eastern has won its last two and three of its last four to move to 3-13 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 ISU Win: "I thought we did a great job. Idaho State at one point led in rebounding 15-5, but we came back and did a good job on the glass. Tyler Kidd got a lot of guys a lot of threes – I thought he had more than five assists and did a great job leading of our team. Cody had an amazing game shooting the ball from the 3-point line, and Jack really played confident. When you do that it really opens it up on the inside and that's why we shoot such a good percentage down there. That was why we came out and played great in the second half."
On Benzel: "He came in as a player who shoots threes, but he earned his way into the starting lineup and that says a lot. He's gone some games where he doesn't even take a shot, but he does things that don't show up in the stat sheet. He's playing amazing basketball. His shots haven't been down, but he's never really left alone and he helps our other players have great games. It sure
shows when he's knocking them in like he did against Idaho State. It's a simple thing -- when he's on the court we win games."
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 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.
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