Game Recap

EWU blasts Montana for statement win

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Earlier this week, Travis DeCuire said that his Montana Grizzlies have been “the speed bump” on the route to Eastern Washington’s quest to go dancing. And UM’s seventh-year head men’s basketball coach was spot on in his analysis. 

Thursday night in Cheney, Eastern Washington plowed through that speed bump with little resistance, posting a statement 90-76 victory over the rival Griz that extended Eastern’s winning streak to eight games, strengthened the Eagles’ stranglehold on first place in the Big Sky Conference and handed DeCuire his largest margin of defeat against a league opponent during his time coaching his alma mater. 

The Eagles snapped a four-game losing streak to the Grizzlies that included a loss in the 2018 Big Sky Tournament championship game by blitzing the visitors with an offensive onslaught that put EWU up 27 points before the game was 12 minutes old. Montana locked in defensively the rest of the way but it mattered not as Eastern affirmed itself as the top contender in the Big Sky Conference a season after winning the outright league title despite getting swept by the Griz.

“We came out hot and made some shots early,” EWU head coach Shantay Legans said in a press release. “Their pressure really bothered us and we turned the ball over at a pretty high rate. But coming out and hitting those shots early really put us in a good spot for the rest of the game.”

On Monday, Montana senior big man Michael Steadman entered the NCAA Transfer Portal. On Thursday, Eastern Washington fed the post early and often, in turn opening up the rest of EWU’s spread offense as the Eagles blistered the bewildered Grizzlies for the first 12 minutes of the rivalry game. 

Eastern Washington forward Kim Aiken Jr. (24) finishes vs. Montana on Thursday/by Bridget Underwood

EWU junior power forward Kim Aiken Jr., the league’s top enforcer and a returning All-Big Sky power forward, had 14 points by the time the Grizzlies had 14 points. Regardless of if the defensively deficient Steadman would’ve made a different, EWU junior center Tanner Groves also took advantage of the hole in the middle of the Griz defense by converting his first four field goal attempts. 

By the time the onslaught was finished, EWU led 47-20 and the Eagles were 17-of-19 from the floor, including 5-of-6 from beyond the arc. 

The Griz managed to cut the lead to 51-34 by holding the Eagles scoreless for the final five minutes of the first half. And Montana cut the gap to as little as 12 points after halftime. 

But EWU moved to 10-2 in league play, dropping UM to 5-8 in the process, by shooting 55 percent from the floor and nailing 11-of-20 attempts from beyond the arc. 

Eastern reserve point forward Tyler Robertson hit three different shots as the shot clock was expiring to keep the Griz at bay, finishing with 21 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-4 from deep. Fellow Australian Jack Perry drilled all three of his triples. And Aiken, a thorn in Montana’s side for all three of his seasons in Cheney, finished with 21 points and eight rebounds as he continued to solidify his second consecutive all-league campaign. 

“I thought we would be a lot more ready to play and compete,” DeCuire said. “When you have guys who have never been in the rivalry before, they don’t have a true understanding of what is different when you play a team like this.”

EWU played without Jacob Davison, the preseason Big Sky MVP, for the third game in a row. An Eagle offense that has averaged 90 points per game during its current win streak didn’t miss a beat. Sophomore Michael Meadows had 14 points — he’s averaged 17.3 points since moving into the starting lineup — and junior center Tanner Groves continued to solidify his MVP candidacy by posting his eighth double-double in league play, finishing with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Eastern Washington forward Tanner Groves (35) shoots vs. Montana Thursday/by Bridget Underwood

Montana mounted a 12-0 run toward the end of the first half but never led in the game. 

Griz freshman Robby Beasley III finished with a career-high 25 points. Sophomore Eddy Egun came off the bench to also hit a career high with 16 points. But the Griz lost for the second time during league play on a Thursday. 

“We told the guys to hang in there,” DeCuire said. “There were things we told them to do defensively to slow the down but we didn’t have the guys to execute everything defensively. “

Montana has the return of the home and home with EWU coming to Missoula on Saturday for a noon tip.

“We have to be the aggressor in 36 hours from now,” DeCuire said. 

Photos courtesy of Bridget Underwood – Eastern Washington Athletics. All Rights Reserved.

About Colter Nuanez

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate ('09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 13-year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to found Skyline Sports.

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