MOSCOW, Idaho – Fouled with 4.3 seconds remaining and Eastern Washington clinging to a one-point lead, Kim Aiken Jr. prolonged the suspense in a game with Idaho that saw 10 lead changes.
Aiken hit 1 of 2 free throws, which gave Idaho a reasonable chance of forcing overtime.
But Damon Thacker’s long inbounds pass was intercepted by Jacob Davison, and after Chance Garvin fouled him with 2 seconds remaining, Davison hit a final free throw to seal a 78-75 win as Garvin’s desperate half-court shot went wide left.
The Eagles improved to 10-6 and 3-2 in the Big Sky Conference. Idaho slipped to 5-11 and 1-4; none of the Vandals’ league losses has been by more than three points.
“It’s already getting old, man. We know we’re right there,” Trevon Allen said afterward. The Vandals senior guard led all scorers with 23 points and crossed the 1,000 career-point threshold with a 3-point shot at the 13-minute mark.
“We’re putting ourselves in the right position. We’ve just got to get a win,” Allen said.
Idaho coach Zac Claus, who played two years at EWU, graduating in 1998, saluted the Eagles.
“I’m a proud alum of that place, and they play the game the right way,” Claus said. In Davison (17 points), Aiken (18 points and eight rebounds) and Mason Peatling (nine points), he said EWU has “a three-headed monster.”
“There are not many like that in this league,” Claus said.
As the Vandals continue to absorb near misses, Claus echoed Allen.
“It’s no fun to be on the doorstep and not be able to kick it down,” Claus said. “But I still love coaching this group.”
In addition to Allen, the Vandals got big games from its post players. Scott Blakney had 14 points, and Jack Wilson added 10 points and five rebounds. Both fouled out, however.
In a back-and-forth game, the Vandals got their first lead after rebounding an EWU miss, which allowed Keyshaad Dixon to arrow a court-length pass to Quinton Forrest under the basket for a 24-22 advantage.
It was one of Idaho’s few fast-break opportunities. All season, the Vandals have been determined to get out in transitions, but against EWU, Claus repeatedly restrained them, directing them to slow down and run half-court sets.
“Eastern plays at a high pace. We did not want to match their game,” Allen said.
Deliberate play seemed to work. Idaho was within four (35-31) at the half. The Eagles led by as many as 10 points in the second half before the Vandals forced a final deadlock (71-71) on an Allen 3-pointer that was a prelude to the drama in the closing seconds.
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