Before Eastern Washington coach Shantay Legans handed in his preseason Big Sky Conference ballot in October, he dubbed Idaho – last place a season ago, last place in the polls and currently tied for last – a “sneaky good and talented” team.
It sneaked up on Eastern Washington on Thursday, upsetting the Eagles 74-71 at Reese Court in a game the Vandals controlled from the jump.
Idaho standout guard and Clarkston High alum Trevon Allen poured in 31 points and added 10 rebounds, sparking a Vandals team that led by double figures most of the evening.
Allen, the Big Sky’s second-leading scorer (21 ppg), helped the Vandals hold off the Eagles, who chipped away at a 24-point lead to make to make it a one-possession game down the stretch.
The Eagles (16-8, 9-4 Big Sky) had multiple possessions in the final minute to erase the Vandals’ three-point cushion – a lead that didn’t grow because the Idaho missed 6 of 7 free throws in that stretch – but couldn’t send the game into overtime.
EWU committed 10 of its 17 turnovers in the first half, helping Idaho jump out to a 19-6 lead it didn’t relinquish.
Allen came out hot, hitting four of his first six shots from the field to help Idaho even the season series with its conference rival. EWU won 78-75 in Moscow last month.
Idaho (7-17, 3-10) has given most of the Big Sky teams problems but has failed to close out many of its opponents down the stretch.
“We came in and were locked early,” said Allen, a senior. “It helped to jump out to that lead and maintain it. It was a special night, and special to get a win here in my last go-around in Cheney.”
The game also marked the return of Idaho interim coach Zac Claus, a former EWU guard in the 1990s.
“More than anything, I’m just thrilled for our guys, “ Claus said. “They battled and competed, and have gone through a lot of ups and downs to get to this point.”
EWU, which won seven of its previous eight games, was held to 29 % shooting in the first half. The deep-shooting Eagles finished 8 for 32 from 3-point range.
Idaho, which coughed up 23 turnovers, controlled the boards, outrebounding EWU 46-28.
“We have to do better as a staff and as players. When that ball goes up on the rim, rebounding is nothing but effort and hustle,” Legans said. “We have to figure out why they didn’t come prepared to hustle and get those rebounds.”
Forward Mason Peatling and guard Jacob Davison had 21 points each to help EWU make a comeback, but they both missed key attempts in the final minute.
Davison, a junior, eclipsed the 1,000-point career scoring mark in the loss.
EWU enters Saturday’s road game at Portland State tied for second place with Northern Colorado in the Big Sky standings. Montana (15-10, 11-3) handled Weber State 72-37 on Thursday to widen its conference lead.
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