Kim Aiken Jr. found his recently lost shooting touch.
Eastern Washington got back to its Big Sky Conference winning ways.
Aiken connected on 5 of 7 3-point attempts en route to 19 points, and the defending Big Sky champion Eagles opened conference play with a 80-64 over the Lumberjacks on Saturday in Flagstaff, Arizona.
EWU (2-4, 1-0 Big Sky) saw its biggest contribution from steady 6-foot-8 forward Tanner Groves’ 26 points and 13 rebounds, but it was Aiken – 6 for 27 from beyond the arc in his previous four games – who helped stretch the defense of NAU (0-4, 0-1), which trailed by double digits most of the evening.
“I wish I came out shooting better against the bigger nonconference schools,” said Aiken, an All-Big Sky conference wing who also had nine rebounds. “But today I went back in playing like I did in the good times and let it fly.”
The Eagles shot 59% from the field (31 of 50), had their most efficient 3-point shooting of the season (8 for 17) and dominated the Lumberjacks on the glass (42-26).
EWU coach Shantay Legans improved to 7-0 against NAU, a team that’s dropped 16 of its past 19 meetings against the Cheney school.
“We made some shots, scored inside, but 14 turnovers hurt us,” Legans said.
Cameron Shelton paced NAU with 23 points and six rebounds and helped the Lumberjacks jump out to a 10-2 lead that was quickly erased.
Sophomore point guard Ellis Magnuson, who missed the first two games of the season due to a positive coronavirus test, had a team-high five assists for EWU, which led 34-28 at halftime.
Aiken hit 3-pointers on three straight possessions to widen the lead in the second half. The Groves brothers – Tanner and Jacob – combined to score EWU’s next nine points to take a 66-45 lead, its biggest of the game.
“Bench energy was key. We haven’t been playing the best in the second half until today,” Aiken said. “That really helped.”
Eastern Washington was slated to play Northern Arizona twice this weekend in a pair of previously postponed Big Sky games, but Friday’s was canceled after a EWU player initially tested positive for the coronavirus, a result that ended up being a false negative.
EWU wanted to reschedule the Friday game for a Sunday morning game, according to Legans, but NAU administration declined due to a lack of game personnel that would be available on short notice.
“We spent about 52 hours playing trash-can basketball in a room as we were waiting” for a test result, Legans said. “Hopefully, we can get that game in sometime since it’s a conference game.”
EWU hosts Portland State (1-3) on Dec. 31 before facing the Vikings again at Reese Court on Jan. 2.
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