Losing to Montana has a way of lighting a fire under Eastern Washington.
The Eagles peeled off six straight wins – four on the road – after falling to their Big Sky Conference nemesis last month in Cheney.
After the Grizzlies completed the regular-season sweep Thursday in Missoula, EWU proceeded to embarrass the Treasure State’s other Division I school.
And the Eagles’ leading scorer, Jacob Davison, didn’t even hit a bucket from the field.
EWU led Montana State by as many as 36 points on Saturday at Reese Court, cruising to a 74-49 win to beat the Bobcats for the second time in three weeks.
Mason Peatling’s latest double-double (19 points, 10 rebounds) and fellow forward Tanner Groves’ 16 points ignited EWU, which played its fourth game in eight days.
The two big men also combined for five 3-pointers for second-place EWU (16-7, 9-3 Big Sky), which hit 13 of its 30 attempts from long range.
“The guys came out with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, a bad taste in their mouth after the loss on Thursday,” EWU head coach Shantay Legans said. “But now we’ve won seven of our last eight, we’re the hottest team in the Big Sky. The effort was there, the defensive intensity was there.”
The Eagles’ offense was efficient after a cold, 4-for-17 start, but it was their defense that disconcerted the Bobcats.
Montana State (13-10, 6-6) missed 16 of its first 17 shots and finished 22% from the field (13 for 58), contributing to the Bobcats’ lowest-scoring output of the season.
All-Big Sky guard Harald Frey – the league’s fourth-leading scorer (17.7 ppg) – was held to a season-low four points on 1-of-4 shooting.
“We were who we were tonight, and we have to own that,” Montana State head coach Danny Sprinkle said.
“I thought EWU’s defense and focus was on task tonight. After what happened to (EWU) on Thursday, they came out with a point to prove, and they proved it.”
Sprinkle was referencing the Eagles’ 92-82 loss to Montana less than 48 hours before Saturday’s tipoff, a game in which EWU and the Grizzlies combined for 55 fouls, six technicals and the rare ejection of a Montana cheerleader for pushing EWU forward Kim Aiken Jr.
EWU bounced back convincingly, though, beating the Bobcats for the 11th time in 14 meetings.
“I don’t think our guys responded to anything, from being physical to executing, being strong with the ball, getting to the rim or being tough,” Sprinkle added. “We didn’t match (EWU’s) intensity tonight, and they’re a tough team to stop.”
Amin Adamu’s bucket cut the Eagles’ lead to 15-11 at the 7:45 mark of a low-scoring first half, but the Eagles began to find their rhythm from beyond the arc.
Aiken (nine rebounds, seven points and three blocks) soon started the three-point flurry, before Jack Perry and Groves made two 3-pointers each, giving EWU a 35-16 halftime lead.
“The last three of four games I haven’t played my best,” said Groves, a Shadle Park graduate. “Tonight I came out with a different edge. It was a good feeling to finally get back in a good rhythm.”
Davison (18.6 ppg) needed 14 points to reach the career 1,000-point mark as a junior, but was held to 0 for 5 from the field, scoring a single point from the free-throw line.
But even with the conference’s third-leading scorer held in check, EWU had its way with a Bobcats team in the middle of the Big Sky standings.
“Frey is their best player by a mile, and a lot of our plan was taking his game away,” said Peatling, who had two blocks and now has 101 in his career. “The guys guarding him – Mike Meadows, Casson Rouse and Ellis (Magnuson) – stepped up huge.”
Frey had 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists in a 71-58 loss to EWU on Jan. 18 in Bozeman.
Magnuson had a game-high five assists, Meadows had three steals, and Rouse hit two 3-pointers.
“We had a feeling we weren’t going to make (3-point) shots the way things started out for us tonight, but the guys stepped up and knocked them down,” Legans said.
The Eagles host rival Idaho on Thursday night in Cheney.
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