Eastern Washington’s three-pronged attack was one of the primary reasons it was expected to win the program’s fourth Big Sky Conference title, an October prediction by conference coaches.
In Saturday’s 78-69 dispatching of Weber State, the high-scoring trio made sure EWU lived up to the forecast.
Jacob Davison totaled a game-high 24 points to go with eight rebounds and five assists, Kim Aiken Jr. had 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Mason Peatling added 13 points, efforts that caused confetti to rain on Reese Court after the final buzzer.
EWU (23-8, 16-4 Big Sky) clinched an outright Big Sky title and the No. 1 seed in next week’s conference tournament in Boise. Its Thursday quarterfinal opponent will be determined Wednesday.
“This is surreal,” said Davison, a junior guard who scored 15 points in the first half. “This is my first championship. I never won one in high school or any other time. I can’t even put this into words. It’s unbelievable.”
Donning black shirts with “Big Sky Champions” blazoned on the front, the jubilant Eagles took turns cutting down a piece of the net.
Peatling, a Big Sky MVP candidate and one of two players honored in the pregame Senior Night ceremony, wore the biggest piece of the net around his net like a necklace.
He accomplished the first of his two missions. The second pursuit – a berth in the NCAA Tournament – begins next week. The Eagles’ two previous NCAA Tournament appearances were in 2004 and 2015.
Peatling said he paid no mind to the season’s expectations but believed this team was championship caliber at the conclusion of the 2019 Big Sky Tournament.
EWU reached the title game each of the previous two seasons, falling to rival Montana on both occasions.
“The fact that were able to (win a conference title) internally with our coaches, players, staff and everyone involved, regardless of what people were saying externally.” said Peatling, who also had five assists. “This a big accomplishment, so we’re really proud of it.”
EWU clinched a share of the title on Thursday night when it handled Idaho State 100-77 in Cheney, but it needed to beat struggling Weber State (12-19, 8-12) to not share the crown with Montana or Northern Colorado.
The Wildcats, who fell to EWU 79-77 in Ogden, Utah, two months ago, didn’t make the title-clincher easy for the Eagles.
Neither did EWU, which coughed up 14 turnovers and missed 14 of its first 20 shots.
Weber State star Jerrick Harding, the league’s leading scorer (22 points per game), scored 13 of his team-high 18 points at the start of the second half, putting the Wildcats on EWU’s heels.
Cody John’s layup tied the score at 59 at the 11:33 mark, but the Eagles answered with a 10-0 run led by Jack Perry, a veteran guard who made two of his three 3-pointers in that stretch.
The Wildcats went cold from that point, shooting 23% from the field down the stretch.
Aiken, who was held to three points against Idaho State, said he wanted to atone for his poor shooting night.
He did, connecting on 5 of 10 3-point attempts to pace an EWU team that cashed in on 13 of 31 attempts from beyond the arc.
“Winning (a Big Sky title) is great, but we can’t get complacent,” Aiken said when referencing next week’s conference tournament.
Freshman guard Casson Rouse added seven assists for EWU, which earned its first outright title since 2004.
“It feels great to watch the guys celebrate, see their smiles and put on championship shirts and hats,” third-year EWU head coach Shantay Legans said. “It’s exciting to be dancing in the locker room – it’s a good feeling to see those guys happy like that.”
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