Jerseys with a silhouette of Eastern Washington’s campus made their home debut.
A loud, glow-stick waving student section provided an energetic atmosphere for one of the Big Sky Conference’s best rivalries.
The result wasn’t commensurate with the pageantry.
Montana shut down one of the country’s most efficient offenses in a 90-63 rout on Thursday at Reese Court, EWU’s most lopsided loss to the Grizzlies since 1984.
The Eagles shot a chilly 38% from the field (21 for 53), including a 4-for-14 clip from 3-point range.
EWU’s shooting woes were attributed to a longer, more physical Montana club yielding an average of 61 points in Big Sky play.
True freshman Derrick Carter-Hollinger – a 6-foot-5 forward who recently turned 18 years old – was a pest for EWU on both ends of the floor, scoring 16 of his game-high 20 points off the bench the first half.
Carter-Hollinger added 14 rebounds and four blocks for Montana (8-8, 4-1 Big Sky), which has won four of its last five against EWU (9-6, 2-2).
The conference’s marquee game – EWU and Montana were both predicted to win the Big Sky in separate preseason media and coaches polls after facing each other in the previous two title games – featured a double-digit chasm most of the night.
Third-year EWU coach Shantay Legans called the outcome “embarrassing” and praised Montana, which held in check what was the nation’s second-leading offense (85.9 ppg) going in.
“They outclassed us, they outplayed us and they outcoached us in every aspect of the game,” Legans said. “That’s a championship team, and there’s a reason why they’ve been where they’ve been and we’re trying to get where they’re at.”
Montana, which shot 54% from the field, had four players score in double figures, including All-Big Sky guard Sayeed Pridgett, who nearly had a triple-double (18 points, eight rebounds and eight assists).
The 6-4 guard’s length also helped Montana’s perimeter defense limit EWU’s looks beyond the arc. The Eagles averaged 28 3-point attempts going into the game but were held to 14.
“We knew how well (EWU) shoots the ball from 3,” Pridgett said. “So we wanted to limit them from what they do best, force them into their weaknesses and see how far it could take us.”
The longer Grizzlies scored 40 of their points in the paint, including a few dunks that quieted the crowd of nearly 2,000.
“A lot of star guys tonight didn’t do much tonight (on offense), but we stuck our defense and focused on making the right plays,” Pridgett said.
The Eagles also struggled when their shots weren’t contested, including a 17-for-29 showing from the free-throw line. Montana was 20 for 23.
Kim Aiken Jr.’s layup gave EWU a 10-7 lead 5 minutes into the game, but Montana outscored the Eagles 39-18 the rest of the half.
Aiken, who averaged 16.4 points and 11 rebounds, was held to eight points and six rebounds.
EWU was led by forward Mason Peatling (12 points, nine rebounds) and guard Jacob Davison (15 points). Freshman point guard Ellis Magnuson had five of EWU’s 14 turnovers and five assists.
“We have to get better at moving the ball,” Legans said. “We can’t play certain styles when teams are trying to slow us down.
“We have to be more patient offensively and we need to be better at handling the physicality of the game.”
EWU faces Montana again in Missoula on Feb. 6.
The Eagles are in action again on Jan. 16 at rival Idaho.