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Eastern Washington University Basketball

Eastern Washington unable to find enough offense in road loss to Montana State 69-65

By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

Eastern Washington’s players and coaches pride themselves on their offensive variability, how seemingly every player is capable of carrying the Eagles to victory in any given game.

On Thursday, it was Linton Acliese III and Angelo Allegri’s turn to lift the Eagles, combining for 39 points. The Eagles’ defense also did what appeared to be enough, holding Montana State to 32.7% shooting, its second-lowest percentage of the season.

But the Eagles’ three other starters combined to score just 13 points, and a much more balanced offensive effort was enough to lift the Bobcats to a 69-65 victory in Bozeman, ending Eastern’s six-game winning streak in the series.

“We’re not going to shoot great every night,” Eagles coach David Riley said in a postgame radio interview, “but if we want to go to (the Big Sky Tournament in) Boise and win games and go to the (NCAA) Tournament, we have to be able to win a game where we don’t shoot well. We have to find a way to get that done.”

Montana State improved to 15-5 overall and 7-2 in the Big Sky. Eastern dropped to 11-9 and 5-4.

Redshirt freshman Steele Venters and grad transfer Rylan Bergersen, two of EWU’s top three scorers this season, combined to shoot 4 of 25 from the floor and each went 0 for 4 on 3-point attempts. Venters matched a season low with six points, and Bergersen set a season low with four. For the first time in 18 games this season Venters – among the best 3-point shooters in the nation – failed to make a 3.

EWU freshman post Ethan Price, again saddled by fouls, played just 15 minutes and scored three points. Although Acliese made 9 of 13 shots and scored the Eagles’ first 14 points of the second half, he played just 10 of the game’s first 20 minutes due to his own foul trouble.

The absence of Price and Acliese helped the Bobcats double up the Eagles in first-half rebounds (30-15).

It also gave the Eagles fewer options during a scoreless stretch of 10 minutes, 27 seconds during which Eastern’s 10-1 lead turned into a 20-10 deficit.

“We played a little bit small, and they took advantage of that and really hurt us on the glass,” Riley said. “We’ve got to improve there.”

Eastern entered with the second-best rebounding margin (plus-4.9) in the Big Sky, but Montana State finished the game with a 53-30 advantage. Acliese had 10 of those 30 to record a double-double, his fifth of the season.

The Eagles also struggled to get to the free-throw line, where they went 5 for 9, their fewest makes in a game this season. The Bobcats went 23 for 30 at the line.

The off nights by Venters and Bergersen, the rebounding disparity and the lack of free-throw attempts were just too much for the Eagles to overcome.

Montana State, meanwhile, had four players reach double figures in scoring, including 15 points apiece from Jubrile Belo, RaeQuan Battle and Xavier Bishop, the reigning Big Sky Player of the Week.

The Eagles remain in sixth place in the 11-team conference, having defeated all five teams below them and having lost to four of the five teams above them. They play the third of five consecutive road games on Saturday in a rematch against Montana. The Grizzlies won in Cheney, 90-78, on Jan. 6.