On the court for its third game in five days, the Eastern Washington men’s basketball team looked anything but tired against Idaho State on Monday.
The Eagles jumped out to a 21-point lead midway through the first half and pushed its edge to as many as 41 in the second on its way to an 89-63 victory over the Bengals at Reed Gym in Pocatello.
Eastern (11-8, 5-3 Big Sky) shot 44% overall and held Idaho State (3-15, 1-8) to just 34% shooting, the lowest percentage by any of the Eagles’ Big Sky opponents this season.
Eagles coach David Riley said the staff challenged players to be better defensively after Saturday’s loss to Northern Colorado in which the Bears shot 57.1% from the field.
“Our players responded,” Riley said in his postgame radio interview. “They were communicating, they were urgent, and they really took the stuff we talked about after the Northern Colorado game seriously. It shows what’s in them.
“We didn’t practice live yesterday, with a long travel day after a lot of minutes on Saturday. So, we watched a lot of film and went over our principles with a good walk-through. It was fun to see their urgency.”
Idaho State made just 7 of 30 shots in the first half and trailed 52-22 at the break.
Eastern, meanwhile, continued to shoot well from 3-point range especially, making 13 of 31 attempts. Over the past four games, the Eagles are 47-of-103 shooting 3s.
The game before that, a 12-point home loss to Montana, Eastern made a season-low 3 of 18 3-pointers.
Riley credited better ball movement as the reason for that improvement, and he said the Eagles are passing up good shots early in possessions in favor of great shots later.
Redshirt freshman Steele Venters, the Big Sky’s most accurate 3-point shooter so far this season, led the Eagles with 21 points against the Bengals – his ninth game with 20 or more points – and finished 5-of-7 beyond the arc, including three makes in the first five minutes of the game.
Venters has now made 54 of his 110 3-point attempts this season, a percentage (49.1) that ranks fifth-best nationally.
Teammate Angelo Allegri scored 17 points to reach double digits for the fourth straight game, his first such streak this season. Linton Acliese III added 16 points. Rylan Bergersen had nine.
Idaho State senior Tarik Cool led the Bengals with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting.
None of the Eagles’ starters played more than Allegri’s 29 minutes, allowing Riley to empty the bench to a degree he hasn’t all conference season.
The Eagles also continued to shoot free throws well, making 22 of 26 attempts and improving their season free-throw percentage to 75.7, second-best in the Big Sky.
Next up for Eastern is a game Thursday at Montana State (14-5, 6-2), the program it faced in the Big Sky Tournament title game last spring. The Bobcats and the Weber State Wildcats (14-5, 7-1) are the only two Big Sky teams the Eagles have yet to face this season.
Eastern is scheduled to visit Montana (13-6, 6-2) on Saturday, followed by a trip to Ogden, Utah, to face Weber State on Jan. 31. A game Feb. 5 at Southern Utah (11-6, 5-2) rounds out the stretch of road games before the Eagles host Weber State on Feb. 10.
“I honestly think we know we’ve got to have that edge on the road,” said Riley, whose team improved to 7-4 away from Reese Court. “We’ll have a good test this week to see if that’s really true.”
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