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Eagle men fall in Big Sky title game

 

Last updated 3/21/2019 at 4:58pm

The run by the Eagles ran out of magic.

The Eastern Washington University men’s basketball team fell short its bid to advance to the NCAA Tournament by falling to Montana 68-62 on Saturday, March 16, in the championship game of the Big Sky Conference basketball tournament at CenturyLink Arena in Boise, Idaho.

In a rematch of last year’s title game won by the Grizzlies, Montana out-shot Eastern 62.5 percent to 39.4 percent in the second half on its way to a second-straight tournament title to add to its consecutive regular season championships. The Eagles led at halftime 31-26 after hitting seven of its first eight shots, and led for 28:38 of the game, compared to 10:18 for UM.

Four Eagles scored in double figures, led by a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds by redshirt freshman Kim Aiken J., who joined Mason Peatling on the All-Tournament team. Peatling scored 13 and had seven rebounds, Jesse Hunt had 17 and seven boards and Tyler Kidd scored 12 with six rebounds and three assists. However, EWU was out-shot 50.9 percent to 42.1 percent in the game and was out-rebounded 34-30.

Eastern was trying for its fifth-straight national postseason appearance and to join EWU’s 2004 and 2015 teams in advancing to the Big Dance. Eastern defeated the Griz in 2015 — on their home court to boot — in the championship game, but have lost to Montana the last two seasons.

“We have a group that believes and fights for every little inch they get,” Eastern head coach Shantay Legans said. “They brought it every game and in the second half — they wanted to keep playing and get to the NCAA Tournament. They wanted to make Eastern proud, and I think they made them proud by keeping that fight and keeping that grit.

“To see the hurt in the locker room is emotion, it’s family and its love.”

Eastern head coach Shantay Legans

Eastern had its five-game winning streak ended to finish 16-18 after a 1-9 start. Eastern was trying to become just the third Big Sky team out of 53 total entrants to enter the NCAA Tournament with a non-winning record. The Eagles are now 2-6 in the title game.

“To see the hurt in the locker room is emotion, it’s family and its love,” Legans said. “It’s guys getting together and believing in each other. To see them with all their red eyes is sad and heartbreaking. But they are teammates and they love each other. We’ll be back here next year and hopefully we’re on the other end of this thing. I’m just hurting for the guys.”

The high-energy Eagles sank seven of their first eight shots in the game, and took an early 17-5 lead. A 10-0 run was fueled by Aiken’s six points, including a rebound dunk.

Eastern then missed eight-straight shots and went 6:40 without a field goal, but a 7-0 Eagle run put Eastern back up 24-12 with 6:40 to play in the half on a 3-pointer by Cody Benzel. Eastern led 31-26 at halftime, with the Eagles cooling off to sink 45.8 percent of their shots in the half, compared to 40.0 percent for the Griz.

In the second half, Eastern couldn’t mount a scoring run and the Grizzlies eventually took their first lead of the game at 47-46 with 11:04 to play. The Grizzlies made 11 of it its first 13 shots in the second half, and led by as many as eight at the 6:45 mark and led the rest of the way.

In last year’s game, Montana also came from behind to defeat Eastern 82-65 in EWU’s seventh conference tournament championship game in school history. The Eagles led 40-29 at halftime, but was outscored 53-25 after intermission. Montana used a collective 28-4 run in a 10-minute span to not only overcome a seven-point EWU lead, but take a 17-point lead itself.

 

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