After leading for nearly all of the first 36 minutes on Thursday, Eastern Washington called timeout with 4 minutes to go when it seemed like, again, a game was getting away from the Eagles.
They were down five points to Weber State, a team Eastern had lost to just 10 days earlier, and they were reeling, having squandered a 10-point second-half lead.
But the Eagles scored on three consecutive possessions, and got just as many defensive stops to retake the lead, closing out the game on a 15-2 run to secure Eastern’s biggest Big Sky victory of the season, 75-67 over Weber State at Reese Court in Cheney.
“It’s kind of funny. We simulated a situation in practice two days ago where starters were down five, 4 minutes to go,” Eagles head coach David Riley said. “We (had to) get a stop, get a score, and just play the right way every single possession.”
Rylan Bergersen started the final surge with a layup. On the following possession, freshman Ethan Price hit a 3 from the wing to tie the game at 65. On the next trip down, redshirt freshman Steele Venters hit a 3 from nearly the same spot, and the Eagles were back ahead, 68-65.
Angelo Allegri scored the next five points to make it 73-65, and Weber State’s only points after that came on a pair of Dillon Jones free throws.
It was just the sort of closing sequence that had eluded the Eagles (12-12, 6-7 Big Sky) during their four-game losing streak. It also gave them a victory over what had been the team atop the standings; Montana State (19-5, 11-2) beat Portland State (8-14, 6-8) on Thursday night to take over first place in the Big Sky, a half-game ahead of Weber State (18-7, 11-3).
“This is an ultra confidence booster,” said Eagles grad transfer Linton Acliese III, who scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds. “We’ve been in these close games against these top teams in the conference over and over and over, and it feels good to be in the postgame and be on the other side of it, turning these games into wins instead of losses.”
Eastern made 27 of 61 field-goal attempts (44.3%) to keep pace with Weber State (44.1%), the Big Sky’s top shooting team. The Eagles hit 13 of 16 free throws – better than the Wildcats’ 6-for-9 night at the line.
Eastern also got a balanced scoring effort from its starters, who all had at least 10 points. Bergersen led them with 16 on 7-of-12 shooting, Allegri added 12 and Venters had 14, including the late 3-pointer and another 3 right before halftime that gave Eastern a 37-34 lead.
Then there was Price, whom Acliese called the team’s “anchor” after his 10-point, seven-rebound, four-assist night. He also played nearly 34 minutes and had just three fouls.
“It’s just growth with him, not getting in foul trouble early,” Riley said of Price. “You can see his confidence growing every single game. As a freshman, this is all new to him, so he’s getting more decisive.”
Weber State sophomore Seikou Sisoho Jawara led all scorers with 24 points and made 6 of 7 3-point attempts and 9 of 14 shots overall.
Eastern hosts Idaho State (5-17, 3-10) at 2 p.m. Saturday. The Bengals beat the Idaho Vandals 79-70 on Thursday night and last weekend upset Montana 86-63.
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