MISSOULA – Forty-eight hours after handing Montana coach Travis DeCuire the worst loss of his Big Sky Conference career, Eastern Washington provided an encore.
Big Sky-leading EWU led by as many as 29 points in a 90-76 win over rival Montana on Saturday at Dahlberg Arena, matching the score of the Eagles’ thumping over the Grizzlies on Thursday in Cheney.
EWU, which swept Montana for the first time since the 2002-03 season, extended its winning streak to nine games after another torrid shooting performance.
After jumping out to a 27-point lead and shooting 54% from the field on Thursday, EWU was similar on Saturday, hitting 57% of its shots in the first half to build a quick double-digit lead that ballooned.
Kim Aiken Jr., the Big Sky’s reigning player of the week, continued his recent tear, scoring a game-high 28 points and pulling down 10 rebounds.
When Aiken wasn’t hitting 3-pointers (4 for 5), dunking or cleaning up the glass, burgeoning guard Mike Meadows (20 points) was connecting on an array of jumpers and Tanner Groves (14 points, 10 rebounds) was authoritative on the block.
“We came in with a lot of willpower,” Aiken said. “I was watching the movie ‘Green Lantern’ last night, and the whole thing about willpower stuck with me.”
The Eagles (12-6, 11-2), aiming for back-to-back Big Sky titles for the first time in program history, were in control from the jump, racing out to a 17-3 lead and keeping their foot on the gas .
EWU had plenty of incentive.
Montana (9-12, 5-8) had a four-game winning streak going in this week’s series and kept the Eagles out of the NCAA Tournament in 2018 and 2019. DeCuire created some bulletin-board material this week when he called the Grizzlies a recent “speed bump” for EWU during a news conference.
Moments after the win, EWU head coach Shantay Legans posted a tweet that apparently referenced DeCuire’s comment.
“It was a little bumpy but our guys came out and had a terrific 2 games vs the griz. Our #1 fan thought so too,” Legans said with a video of his young daughter saying the word bump.
Multiple EWU assistant coaches also referenced the term “speed bump” on Twitter after the win. Legans said his team used the extra motivation.
“You hear things. Our guys are social media savvy,” Legans said. “But this was a great sweep and tells you how far this program has come and where we are headed.”
Montana, one of the Big Sky’s better defensive units, was surrendering 65 points a game to conference foes before the Eagles’ two 90-point performances.
The Grizzlies took away the 3-point line early from EWU, which attempted just one shot from behind the arc in the first half when Meadows hit one at the halftime buzzer.
EWU scored in myriad other ways.
“We love the 3-point line, but we just took what they were giving us,” Aiken said.
Legans was fine with that.
“People say we’re just a 3-point-shooting team, like we’re soft,” Legans said. “We can score in a lot of ways.”
Groves’ inside bucket gave EWU a 67-38 lead near the 13-minute mark of the second half before the Grizzlies made a late run.
Josh Bannan totaled 20 points and nine rebounds for Montana, which brought in several new pieces this season.
“(EWU) is going to be excited and have a little extra intensity going into this game in terms of what they’re playing for,” DeCuire said. “And unfortunately for us, we don’t have guys in our rotation other than (Mack Anderson) that are part of those past battles we had with them.”
EWU, which has a 1½-game lead in the Big Sky standings over Southern Utah and Weber State, concludes its regular season March 3 and 5 against Idaho State in Cheney.
Correction: EWU’s school-record winning streak is 11 games, set during the 2003-2004 season. A previous version of this story incorrectly listed the record as nine games.
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