Defending the home court never felt so good.
Eastern Washington put up season-best numbers on defense in a crucial 69-52 Big Sky Conference win over Montana State win Saturday night at Reese Court.
“This is our best defensive game of the year,” EWU coach Jim Hayford said. “Montana State is playing really good basketball right now, and for us to shut them down I couldn’t be more proud of our guys and the coaching staff. We really needed this win.”
In front of a season-high crowd of 3,617 on Alumni Appreciation Night, the Eagles broke a four-game losing streak and got back in the thick of the Big Sky tournament race.
The Eagles (10-12, 4-5 in the Big Sky) are still in sixth place, but a riding a different kind of momentum as they next face the teams that share last place. EWU travels to Northern Arizona on Thursday. The Eagles’ next home game at 6 p.m. Saturday against Sacramento State.
Long after the game ended Saturday night, hundreds of kids were getting autographs from Eagles players, who earlier put on a signature effort on defense that included season bests in three big categories: Eastern held the Bobcats to 31 percent shooting from the field, 21 percent from 3-point range, and most important, the lowest point total by an opponent this year.
“Defense leading to offense – that was the story of the night,” Hayford said.
Eastern took advantage with two big runs, one in each half. The Eagles trailed 17-14 just 8 minutes into the game, but they outscored the Bobcats 18-3 over the next 8 minutes to lead 32-20 on Parker Kelly’s 3-pointer with 4:22 remaining in the half.
Eastern led 37-28 at halftime, but the Bobcats had gnawed the EWU lead to four and took the ball with 11:29 left. Then Cliff Colimon cut off an inside pass and fed Cliff Ederaine for a thunderous slam that wrested the momentum for good.
Eastern outscored 23-10 the rest of the way as MSU went more than 8 minutes without a field goal.
“I was excited,” said Ederaine, who scored a game-high 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds. “We needed a stop and shut them down.”
Most of the defense came inside, where Ederaine and Laron Griffin helped the Eagles outscore MSU 40-14 in the paint and 16-6 on second-chance baskets.
“It doesn’t feel like that there’s very many nights when our big guys are the same size as the other guys,” Hayford said. “It was good to flex our muscles down low.”
Griffin scored 12 points and 11 rebounds, his second double-double of the year; Tremayne Johnson added 11 points and eight rebounds.
“Coach preaches inside-out defense. Defense has always been our mentality,” Ederaine said. “And a slam dunk, that always feels great.”
Ederaine, Griffin each had four slams and were a combined 13 for 23 from the field.
Colimon added 11 points, six assists and three steals.
The win was similar to the Eagles’ 82-66 win over the Bobcats last month in Bozeman. EWU led that one 37-29 at halftime and shut down MSU with defense.
Eastern had 12 turnovers to 20 for Montana State, marking the 20th time in 22 games this season EWU has had fewer turnovers than its opponent. Eastern finished the game making 42 percent of its shots from the field, just two days after making only 34 percent against Montana in a 74-60 loss.
Shawn Reid led the Bobcats (11-9, 6-3) with 10 points and Christian Moon added nine.