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Sports >  NCAA basketball

Eastern Washington leans on defense to beat Northern Arizona, advance to Big Sky Tournament semifinals

UPDATED: Thu., March 11, 2021

BOISE – Shortly before Eastern Washington tipped off against Northern Arizona in the Big Sky Conference Tournament quarterfinals on Thursday, Jacob Davison lauded Luke Avdalovic.

Avdalovic spearheaded the Lumberjacks’ first-round upset of Portland State the previous day, hitting 7 of 10 3-point attempts in the process.

“You going to let me get a couple of looks today?” Avdalovic jokingly asked Davison, EWU’s high-scoring senior guard.

“No, I’m sticking on you all day,” Davison replied.

The No. 2-seeded Eagles proceeded to shut down 10th-seeded Northern Arizona, holding the Lumberjacks to 4 for 19 from the 3-point line in a 66-60 win on at Idaho Central Arena.

EWU (14-7) also held standout guard Cameron Shelton to 11 points, nearly half of his average, preventing NAU (6-16), a team the Eagles handled 80-64 on the road in the regular season, from getting a rhythm.

Avdalovic, who missed his lone 3-point try, scored a team-high 12 points.

“It was clear they weren’t going to let me get a shot off,” Avdalovic said.

The Eagles advanced to Friday’s semifinals and will face rival and No. 7 seed Montana (15-12). No. 1 seed Southern Utah faces No. 5 seed Montana State in the other semifinal.

While EWU was happy with its defensive effort, the Eagles know they played into the hands of slower-paced NAU, which didn’t allow the Big Sky’s top offense (79 points per game) to have many big scoring surges.

NAU (44%) and EWU (41.5%) didn’t shoot particularly well from the field, and the Eagles struggled from beyond the arc (8 for 29).

EWU head coach Shantay Legans took solace in his team’s energy and effort.

“We didn’t score the ball extremely well this game, but we did a good job of keeping them down,” Legans said. “We did a good job guarding the 3-point line. We did everything we could to win this game. It was fun and a great game to get out of the gate – the first one is always the hardest. We have to give NAU a lot of credit because they did a great job tonight.”

It was EWU’s second low-scoring output in three games after falling 68-63 to Idaho State on March 3 in Cheney, ultimately leading to the Eagles’ No. 2 seed.

EWU managed just seven points in the first 9 minutes of play before Tyler Robertson – the Big Sky Reserve of the Year – helped spearhead a quick scoring barrage.

Robertson hit a pair of 3-pointers to help give EWU a 32-20 lead.

Robertson finished with a game-high 18 points, hitting 10 of 10 from the line in front of dozens of red-clad EWU fans who got to watch the game live in the limited-capacity setting.

“I just come in and do what the team needs,” Robertson said. “Whether it’s rebounding, passing or scoring. We just needed a little bit of scoring coming off the bench tonight.”

NAU coach Shane Burcar also liked his team’s defensive effort.

“We lost 66-60 to a No. 2 seed,” Burcar said. “We were right there. We had so many opportunities. And it’s like I tell my players, nobody tries to miss a shot.”

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