As wildly inconsistent Eastern Washington has been the past two weeks, senior forward Mason Peatling has been steady.
The Eagles needed the Australian to hold off upset-minded Sacramento State 77-76 on Thursday at Reese Court when the Hornets threatened to hand EWU its second consecutive home loss.
Peatling scored a game-high 28 points, pulled down 10 rebounds, dished out six assists and hit a series of late buckets to help EWU regain a lead it had most of the night.
Peatling was pleased with the win but not the way EWU (18-8, 11-4 Big Sky) secured it.
“We’re not really happy with our performance, so we’re going to go back to the drawing board,” said Peatling, who shot 4 for 6 from beyond the arc. “Look at a couple things and see how we could have pulled away rather than make it a game at the end.”
With five regular-season games left, the Eagles are in contention for the Big Sky Conference crown.
EWU heads into Saturday’s home game against Northern Arizona (15-10, 9-7 Big Sky) tied with Northern Colorado (18-8, 11-4) for second in the conference standings.
The Eagles and Bears trail first-place Montana (16-10, 12-3) by 1 1/2 games.
Sacramento State (13-12, 6-10), a team EWU beat 59-54 on the road last month, nearly took the Eagles out of the conversation.
The Hornets – the Big Sky’s most frustrating defensive team (58 points allowed per game) – turned nine second-half EWU turnovers into a 68-64 lead at the 5:14 mark, a margin boosted by a 15-0 run.
“We had some turnovers in some key moments,” EWU coach Shantay Legams said. “But at the end of the day, the guys came in and hit big free throws and big shots.”
Hot-shooting EWU jumped out to a 17-point cushion in the first half, holding Sacramento State to 9-for-27 shooting from the field.
The script flipped after intermission, though, when Sacramento State hit 20 of its 30 attempts, spearheaded by guard Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa (23 points).
The Hornets hit 10 straight field goals in the second half, including a pair of 3s by Mauriohooho-Le’afa, but the Eagles’ deep shooting came back in timely fashion.
EWU forward Kim Aiken Jr. (16 points) shook off a recent slump, hitting 4 of 6 3-point attempts, none bigger than the two he hit on back-to-back possessions, the second giving the Eagles a 70-68 lead they didn’t relinquish.
Jacob Davison (12 points) hit two late free throws in the final seconds for EWU before Mauriohooho-Le’afa hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The Eagles shot 11 for 25 from 3-point range, a few open looks set up by senior guard Jack Perry, who had eight assists.
Perry knew that the low-scoring Hornets (61 ppg) were capable of a surge.
“(Sacramento State) is very deliberate in what they do,” Perry said. “They wanted to get inside, and they kicked it out to their shooters, who did a good job making shots, so credit to them.”
Sacramento State is 1-7 on the road in conference play.
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