BOZEMAN, Montana – Eastern Washington turned a narrow lead into a double-digit victory with an 11-0 run midway through the second half, topping Montana State 71-58 in Bozeman on Saturday.
The Eagles led 48-46 with 8:48 to play when Kim Aiken Jr. hit a free throw, then Tanner Groves drilled a three-pointer and two layups. Jacob Davison’s triple between Groves’ layups expanded the lead to 60-47 with 3:30 remaining, and Eastern made 10 of their 16 free throws from that point on to seal the win.
“We just couldn’t get anything going offensively,” Sprinkle said of that stretch. “We had some good looks, some drives, but it was the 19 turnovers (on the game that was the difference). If you turn the ball over 19 times against a good offensive team like that they’re going to make you pay. It seems like every time they got an offensive rebound, they made us pay. They had 23 fast break points they were getting off our turnovers or our quick shots.”
Jacob Davison led all players with 26 points for Eastern, while Mason Peatling added 17 points and 11 rebounds. Kim Aiken Jr. grabbed 13 boards and dished out four assists.
The Bobcats held Eastern Washington, one of the nation’s most prolific and efficient offensive teams, to 71 points and 37% shooting. Sprinkle fingered his team’s offense as the culprit. “I thought our offense killed us. We were up 40-36 with about 13 minutes left and I think we scored six points over the next 10 minutes. They scored 23. We had six turnovers, and I don’t know if they even had a turnover in that span. We had opportunities. We got some stops where we could have pushed it to six, eight, nine points, but we had some costly turnovers on the break, we got sloppy with it, and they made us pay.”
Montana State shot just 37% on the game, 23.5% from the three-point line. The Bobcats turned the ball over 19 times to Eastern Washington’s 13 turnovers, while EWU out-rebounded the Cats 41-to-40.
Eastern Washington opened the game with a high energy level, and jumped out to an 18-6 lead after six minutes. The Bobcats worked their way back, and took a 28-27 lead with 2:23 to play before halftime when Harald Frey finished a fast break with a layup for two of his team-high 19 points. Frey also finished with five assists and four steals, but Eastern scored six straight to close the first half with a 34-30 lead.
Sprinkle said EWU’s experience showed. “They did what good, veteran teams do, he said. “That’s a lethal offensive team.”
MSU’s first-year head coach praised his team’s defense, and its ability to change schemes on the fly. “Really, until we started fouling we had them at about the 60 point mark with five minutes to go,” he said. “I thought our one-three-one (zone) helped us, it kept us in the game. It sparked our energy a little bit. But at the end of the day you have to be able to guard mano a mano, and they were too much for us, their pace.”
Montana State’s loss was its fourth in the last five outings, and dropped the team’s record to 9-9 overall, 3-4 in the Big Sky. Eastern Washington is 11-6 overall, 4-2 in the league. The Bobcats play at Weber State on Thursday, January 23, at 7 pm.