A recent surge might not be enough for the Eastern Washington men’s basketball team to avoid playing on the first day of the Big Sky Tournament in two weeks.
But if they do face the task of winning four games in four days to return to the NCAA Tournament, the Eagles will be playing with plenty of confidence.
The Eagles beat Northern Colorado 85-76 in Greeley, Colorado, on Thursday, winning for the fourth time in five games to remain in sixth place in the Big Sky standings with three games left in the regular season.
The victory ended Eastern’s five-game road losing streak and gave the Eagles (15-13 overall, 9-8 Big Sky) their third recent victory over teams ahead of them in the standings, including Weber State, Montana State and now Northern Colorado (16-13, 11-6). Southern Utah beat Montana (17-11, 10-7) 82-74 on Thursday night, keeping the Grizzlies in fifth place, one game ahead of Eastern.
Rylan Bergersen and Angelo Allegri each hit a late 3-pointer to help the Eagles keep the Bears at bay. Allegri’s came with 1:23 left and gave Eastern a 79-70 lead, its largest of the game.
From there, Ellis Magnuson, Steele Venters and Bergersen each sank a pair of free throws to secure the victory.
Eastern shot 28 of 51 from the field (54.9%). UNC – the Big Sky’s leader in shooting – made 27 of 62 shots overall (43.5%), including 14 of 40 3-pointers (35%).
“We played a lot more solid defensively. We did a better job protecting the paint,” Eastern coach David Riley said in a postgame radio interview. “We made them take shots that we were OK with them shooting, rather than the shots they were trying to get.”
All five Eagles starters scored in double digits, led by Allegri’s 19. Linton Acliese III added 16 points to go with a team-high nine rebounds, and Bergersen finished with four assists and 17 points, including a 3-for-5 effort from 3-point range.
The Eagles made 10 of 19 3-point attempts, their best showing (52.6%) of the season. It was also the first time they had hit that many 3s since making 10 of 27 against Southern Utah five games ago.
Eastern also dominated inside, outscoring UNC 34-22 in the paint and winning the rebounding margin 35-30.
“I just think we’re finally coming together a little bit offensively,” Riley said. “It’s tough to guard us when we’re moving like that.”
The victory leveled the teams’ season series at a victory apiece, after the Bears won in Cheney 87-83 on Jan. 22.
Eastern plays its final regular-season road game at last-place Sacramento State on Saturday night before closing out with two home games next weekend.
“It’s a tough place to play. It’s Senior Night there,” Riley said. “It’s going to be a battle.”
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