When Eastern Washington previously prepared for defensive-minded, grind-it-out Sacramento State, the coronavirus pandemic was beginning to sink its teeth into college basketball.
The top-seeded Eagles were set to face the ninth-seeded Hornets in the Big Sky Conference Tournament quarterfinals in Boise, a game that was canceled roughly 90 minutes before tipoff.
Hours later, American sports came to a halt.
Things remain shaky.
Nearly a year after the Big Sky and NCAA tournaments were shelved, EWU’s two-game series with Sacramento State was nearly canceled after an EWU player yielded a positive coronavirus test.
The Hornets also had a member of their program test positive in recent days, according to sources, but both programs agreed to a postponement.
Instead of a two-game, Thursday and Saturday series at Reese Court in Cheney, the games will be played at 11 a.m. on Sunday and Monday.
Four of EWU’s six Big Sky series have either been postponed or canceled.
Of the several Big Sky matchups this week, only the Idaho vs. Weber State series wasn’t altered.
EWU coach Shantay Legans, whose Eagles (4-6, 3-2 Big Sky) are coming off back-to-back conference splits, is thankful to be playing.
Sacramento State (6-3, 4-2) is a worthy adversary and is among the three teams in the 11-member conference to have played just 10 games or fewer as the season approaches February.
“One of the toughest teams in the league,” Legans said of the Hornets. “They play a different style of ball. Good coach (Brian Katz) and players. You have to be ready for them.”
EWU has won nine of its previous 10 games against the Hornets, who came away with a big 89-83 double-overtime home win over Montana last week.
The Hornets are paced by forward Ethan Esposito’s 18.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. Bryce Fowler, a 6-6 guard, averages 13.2 points and 4.2 assists.
Eastern is led by junior forward Tanner Groves (16.8 ppg, 9.1 rpb) and guards Jacob Davison (13.9 ppg) and Kim Aiken Jr. (11.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg).
The guard-heavy Eagles – one of the Big Sky’s most efficient deep-shooting teams in recent years – have struggled from 3-point range (82 for 255), leading to more production inside.
“We’re a rhythm team” Legans said. “With (the cancellations and postponements), guys not getting practices in, it’s affected us a bit. But a lot of teams are going through this, too.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.