Confetti rained, nets were cut and a throng of jubilant fans looked on when Eastern Washington previously hosted a game at Reese Court, the result of a Big Sky Conference championship-clinching win days before the coronavirus shutdown in March.
If EWU supporters were smiling during the Eagles’ 80-56 demolition of NAIA power College of Idaho on Friday in Cheney, it was likely in front of their televisions and computers.
The Eagles created their own energy in a fanless venue – Washington’s social distancing restrictions forbid spectators – and picked up where they left off at home, leading by as many as 30 points in the rout.
EWU’s bench was doing jumping jacks as it cheered – players and coaches were distanced in their own individual seat, giving them room to move around – to try and emulate a raucous student section.
“It was sad,” EWU’s Jacob Davison said of not seeing anyone in the stands. “I was telling (EWU guard) Jack Perry in warmups that I miss the fans. They can be a big momentum-changer.”
The Eagles (1-3) didn’t need any help this time.
Five players reached double-digit scoring, including Davison (15 points), Jacob Groves (15 points), Tyler Robertson (12 points, five assists), Kim Aiken Jr. (11 points) and Tanner Groves (10 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks).
In a game that was hastily scheduled after EWU’s Tuesday meeting with UNLV was canceled due a positive coronavirus test within the Runnin’ Rebels’ program, the Eagles’ put the Yotes (1-3) in a quick double-digit hole.
Aiken and Davison, who struggled shooting in losses to Pac-12 foes Washington State, Arizona and Oregon, came out hot, spearheading a 17-4 lead that only ballooned.
“It’s good for those guys to see the ball go through the basket,” EWU coach Shantay Legans said. “We haven’t been shooting it well, especially (Aiken and Davison) early this season. But as the flow of the season comes, their shooting percentages will go up.”
College of Idaho (1-3), ranked No. 8 in the latest NAIA coaches poll, was dealt its third loss to a NCAA Division I school this month.
EWU’s speed, athleticism, length and depth were too much for the Yotes, who were held to 22-for-70 shooting, including a chilly 4-for-24 mark from 3-point range.
The defending Cascade Collegiate Conference champions outwilled the Eagles in rebounds (49-45), but were forced into 14 turnovers.
Jacob Groves’ layup with 7:31 left gave EWU a 71-41 cushion, its biggest lead of the night.
College of Idaho was paced by guards Jalen Galloway and Tyler Robinett, who had 11 points each.
“(EWU has) become a premier team in the Big Sky Conference for a reason,” Yotes coach Colby Blaine said.
EWU was in control from wire to wire despite shooting 10 for 35 from 3-point range and 10 for 19 from the free-throw line.
The guard-heavy Eagles, who pride themselves on efficient perimeter shooting, had struggled in their first four games, hitting just 34 of 122 attempts.
EWU visits NCAA Tournament regular Saint Mary’s (5-1) on Tuesday in Moraga, California. The Gaels will be playing their fifth straight home game.
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