There will be more games like this for Eastern Washington, with hard-nosed defense, multiple lead changes and clutch plays at the end.
Saturday afternoon’s Big Sky Conference encounter with Northern Colorado had all of the above, plus some unlikely heroes who led the Eagles to a 67-65 win at Reese Court.
“Every game is important, and every single game we play is going to be like this,” coach Shantay Legans said after the game.
As Legans spoke those words, forward Mason Peatling soaked them in. He absorbed them like he did a pivotal charge in a game that was tied with just more than a minute to play, the way he took on much of the heavy lifting in the second half.
But despite a 17-point, 15-rebound day – perhaps his best as an Eagle – Peatling was too modest to talk about it.
Legans did it for him.
“Mason had a monster game,” Legans said after the Eagles improved to 11-11 overall and 6-3 in the Big Sky.
“He’s the reason we won tonight – he kicked everybody’s butt on the boards. He tried to outrebound them by himself,” Legans said.
EWU lost the battle on the boards, but by only three. That was far better than the minus-8 in their 88-75 loss at UNC four weeks ago and one reason this game turned out differently.
Another was forward Bogdan Bliznyuk. Two days earlier Bliznyuk became Eastern’s all-time scoring leader, but he wasn’t resting on his laurels.
In fact, he wasn’t resting at all. Bliznyuk played all 40 minutes Saturday. He had 19 points at halftime, forcing the Bears to double-team which gave Peatling space underneath.
Despite the extra attention, Bliznyuk still finished with a game-high 26 points and moved into the top 10 on the Big Sky scoring list.
“Bogdan deserves all that attention. They left me alone off that pick-and-roll and I’m glad I made the shots,” said Peatling, who was 6 for 11 from the field.
After 11 ties and six lead changes, the game came down to a pulsating final 80 seconds. Sir Washington’s layup gave the Eagles a 64-60 lead with 2 minutes, 52 seconds left.
With the game tied at 65, Northern Colorado (14-8, 5-4) had the ball in the hands of Big Sky scoring leader Andre Spight.
Spight, who made a four-point play in the final second of the first half to give UNC a one-point lead at intermission, drove the lane. Peatling was waiting, standing tall to draw the charge that gave the ball back to Eastern with 1:10 left.
“I don’t mind putting my body on the line,” Peatling said.
“That was a huge charge,” Legans said. “He was right there protecting the rim. As we take some charges ourselves and get better at that, teams are not going to drive as hard.”
UNC got the ball back after Jack Perry missed a short jumper, but Spight misfired to leave the game tied with 13 seconds left.
Washington was there for the rebound, going to the line after a foul. He capped a nine-point, six-rebound day with two free throws with 8 seconds left.
Spight got one more chance but missed a 3-pointer with 2 seconds left. The game-clinching rebound, fittingly, went to Peatling.
“I’ve been harping on our guys that defense is going to win games at the end, and to hold that team to 65 points is really good,” Legans said.
Spight came into the game leading the Big Sky with a 23-point average, but finished with just 14 while shooting 3 for 19.
“He’s really good and that’s a really good, well-coached team,” Legans said. “You have to give them a lot of credit for battling back every time. That last shot looked like it was in.”
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