Times have changed at Reese Court. Now it’s the other guys who live and die with the 3-point shot.
On Thursday night that was Montana State, which was stifled early and late as Eastern Washington took a solid 82-64 Big Sky Conference win over the Bobcats.
MSU made things interesting in the second half, but Eastern got a career-high 25 points and 10 rebounds from forward Jacob Wiley to improve to 10-5 overall and 2-0 in the Big Sky going into Saturday’s game against Montana.
The Bobcats came into the game hitting almost 11 3-point shots per game – sixth best in Division I. This time they inished with nine, but it took them 28 tries to get there.
The key was Eastern’s defense, a carryover from last week’s 69-62 win at Idaho.
“To a man, our locker room after Moscow that night knew we won that game with how hard we worked. And that made them hungry in our preparation for this week,” Eastern coach Jim Hayford said.
It also didn’t hurt that Eastern shot 60 percent (29 for 48) from the field and 62.5 percent (10 for 16) from 3-point range.
The Eagles trailed 8-4 early, then dominated the Bobcats on both ends of the floor.
Stripped of the ball in the opening minutes, Wiley returned the favor with a steal and a thunderous slam that sparked a 23-5 Eastern run.
Meanwhile, MSU went 11 minutes without a field goal.
The only flaw for the Eagles in the first half was foul trouble. Late in the half, Hayford’s entire starting frontcourt of Wiley, Bogdan Bliznyuk and Felix Von Hofe was on the bench.
“Teams are really game-planning against Bogdan, and tonight that enabled Jake to really be able to go to work down there,” Hayford said.
MSU (6-10, 1-2) briefly got within single digits, but Jesse Hunt came off the bench to score seven points and put the Eagles up 34-22 at the break.
“Every time I step onto the floor, it’s a great opportunity to be had,” said Hunt, who finished with 13 points on 4-for-5 shooting.
Three minutes into the second half, Eastern built the lead to 45-30, but MSU’s Tyler Hall led an improbable rally that twice cut the deficit to one point.
Hall, who came into the game with a 23.1 scoring average that ranked sixth in the nation, finished with a game-high 33 – more than half the MSU point total.
However, Wiley’s offensive board off a miss by Sir Washington led to a 3-pointer from Bliznyuk with 10 minutes left. That sparked a decisive 21-8 run over the next seven minutes.
“They heated up at the beginning of the second half, but our guys showed great composure and were resilient,” Hayford said. “They didn’t give up the lead and we got regrouped.”
Hunt made a big contribution in that run as well, getting a layup and a foul shot to give the Eagles their first double-digit lead since early in the second half.
“To find ways to win games you need different players to step up and Jesse did a great job coming off the bench,” Hayford said. “I’m really proud of him and I’m really proud of our team.”
Eastern also got a pair of second-half 3-pointers from Cody Benzel, and Von Hofe shook off some early foul trouble to finish with 19 points while going 5 for 7 from beyond the arc.
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