MISSOULA – In a stop-and-go game that featured 55 combined fouls – six of the emotional and subsequently technical-foul variety – Eastern Washington still made its runs.
The Eagles rode high-scoring guard Jacob Davison (34 points) to erase double-digit Montana leads in both the first and second half at raucous Dahlberg Arena, which housed thousands of maroon-clad fans Thursday night.
EWU, which had a half-game lead over the rival Grizzlies before tipoff, even shot an impressive 54% from the field.
But the two-time defending conference champs were still too much for EWU, holding off the Eagles in a wild 92-82 result between the league’s premier teams.
Mason Peatling’s bucket inside cut the Grizzlies’ lead to 84-82 with 36 seconds left, but the Griz answered by hitting eight straight free throws, some the result of a technical foul called on a steaming EWU head coach Shantay Legans with one second left.
“Montana came out and played well,” Legans said. “(Montana coach Travis) DeCuire did a good job of having his guys prepared, and it was real physical early in the game, and it caused us some turnovers.”
“Their crowd got going, and it was a good basketball environment.”
A month after handling EWU 90-63 in Cheney, Montana snapped the Eagles’ six-game win streak to regain the Big Sky lead. The Grizzlies have won five of the last six in the series.
“This has been the story for the last couple years,” Davison said. “Where we get close, but can’t pull it out, but we’re going to figure it out. It will work, it will happen.”
All-Big Sky guards Sayeed Pridgett (24 points) and Kendal Manuel (18 points) came up with timely buckets in the second-half, including Manuel’s four-point play that gave Montana a 69-57 lead before EWU’s late surge, its second scoring onslaught of the night.
EWU (15-7, 8-3 Big Sky) committed 11 of its 15 turnovers in the first half, helping Montana (13-10, 9-3) jump out to a 23-13 lead, but Davison helped the Eagles’ offense get back into its typical high-scoring rhythm in the half’s final 10 minutes, scoring 15 points to help give his team a 45-44 edge at halftime.
“In the beginning we were a little high-strung,” Davison said. “Once we realized we can run with them, we calmed down.”
Montana, which held the Eagles to 14 3-point attempts last month, continued to run the Eagles off the 3-point line in the first half, but Davison attacked Montana’s defense with midrange jumpers and went inside to Peatling (20 points), helping EWU create more 3-point looks as the game went on.
“I think that’s where (the Eagles) win, when good guys are being left open, doubling, reacting to Peatling and Davison and then those guys start racking up 3s,” DeCuire said.
“And for them to only make eight 3s tonight, to not even get off 20 attempts from 3 makes it difficult for them to score the way they like to score, a lot of teams get off on dunks and I think this is a team where 3s get them going. Minimizing those was huge.”
EWU, which averages 26 1/2 3-point attempts a game, went on to hit eight of 19 on Thursday, three by Davison and two by Rouse.
Montana shot an efficient 51.7 % from the field (31 for 60), 60 % from 3-point range (9 for 15) and 84 % from the free-throw line (21 for 25) and held Eagles standout forward Kim Aiken Jr. to single digits (seven points) for the second-straight game.
The foul-heavy game saw Montana tally 29 fouls (three technicals) and EWU total 26 (three technicals).
“Just the way the game was officiated tonight made it a choppy, choppy game,” Legans said.
EWU will play its fourth game in eight days on Saturday when it hosts Montana State.
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