For the second straight season, Eastern Oregon’s Justin Jeske was able to enjoy a homecoming of sorts playing at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
The redshirt junior from Spokane started Wednesday in the NAIA Mountaineers’ 120-42 loss to No. 10 Gonzaga, roughly 14 months after a 115-62 setback to the Zags last season.
The ovation when Jeske scored two early baskets brought a little louder ovation than normal for a GU opponent, thanks to Jeske’s family and friends in attendance.
“I had some family and friends come out,” said Jeske, who played two seasons at Ferris High and finished up at Liberty High in Spangle. “I think it means more to them than me, but it’s a great experience for us, too.”
The sturdy Jeske, 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, spent the afternoon battling inside against Gonzaga senior forwards Drew Timme and Anton Watson. Jeske isn’t sure why he’s listed as a guard on Eastern Oregon’s roster because he’s spent three-plus seasons “guarding bigs. I’m kind of used to banging down low.”
Jeske faced Watson in AAU games and he matched up against both Gonzaga bigs in last year’s game at the Kennel when he fouled out in 22 minutes. It’s rare for an NAIA player to line up against the All-American Timme with the Zags typically only scheduling an NAIA opponent for exhibition games.
“It’s awesome to play against him,” Jeske said of Timme. “He has some of the greatest footwork that I’ve ever seen. He’s a great player, so it’s fun. He’s a great dude. He talked to me before and during the game, just little stuff, small talk about basketball.”
Jeske said he faces a bigger challenge at the defensive end than on offense.
“When you go against these guys, you can definitely tell, they just throw it right over (the top),” Jeske said. “In our league it’s a little bit different. You don’t have the size and weight and I can manage them a little better in our league. Offensively, I can have movement, that first step, but defensively, it’s a lot harder, especially at this level. It’s just really hard to guard those guys.”
Despite the lopsided outcome, the result was better this time for the Mountaineers, who lost guards Paul Pennington, brother-in-law of former GU great Kevin Pangos, and Post Falls High grad Max McCullough, to injuries in last year’s contest.
Wednesday was an exhibition game for Eastern Oregon, which returns to Cascade Collegiate Conference play against Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston on Friday and Walla Walla on Saturday. The Mountaineers are 4-1 in conference, one game behind College of Idaho.
“We’re already looking forward, that was the talk in there,” said Jeske, gesturing toward the locker room. “It’s not fun losing by that much, but the bigger idea is getting better from it and to look forward to league. We have a game in two days.”
The Gonzaga-Eastern Oregon game came about because the Zags needed a post-Christmas game prior to opening West Coast Conference play against Pepperdine on Saturday.
The Zags had an opening because they don’t play Thursday, the first night of conference games for eight teams.
The Zags sidestepped most of the major travel issues across the country over the holiday break. Guard Dominick Harris had a couple of flights canceled trying to return from southern California, but he was eventually able to return to Spokane.
Guard Rasir Bolton and center Efton Reid III, who are both from Virginia, spent an unplanned night in Denver when they missed their connecting flight to Spokane.
“We flew into Denver,” Reid said. “We missed our (next) flight because our other flight was pushed back like four times. It was kind of crazy seeing everybody there, it was packed like crazy (at the airport). We had to fly back the next day. We came straight here and practiced.”