Eastern Washington has built its identity this season as a team that doesn’t want to rely on any one scorer; the Eagles would rather work the ball around to the open shooter.
While that hasn’t always worked perfectly, the Eagles executed the plan well in a methodical 69-62 victory over Northern Arizona on Thursday at Reese Court in Cheney.
“We have a ton of shooters,” redshirt freshman Steele Venters said, “and if someone’s not going, we try to get him going, and shooters shoot.”
Venters got going right from the start, hitting three 3-pointers to give the Eagles an early boost of offense. Venters leads the team with 77 3s this season, the ninth-best single-season total in program history. He finished with a team-high 18 points.
But Eastern also got 13 points from Ethan Price, 12 from Rylan Bergersen, 10 from Linton Acliese III and nine from Angelo Allegri. That starting five – each of whom averages at least 10 points per game – combined to make 11 of 27 3-pointers as the Eagles (16-14, 10-9 Big Sky) fended off a number of runs from the Lumberjacks (9-21, 5-14), who never trailed by more than 11 points.
The Eagles avoided fueling those Lumberjacks’ runs any more by committing just 10 turnovers, lowering their season average to 13.2 a game. That figure is still the fourth-most in the Big Sky, but it is markedly better than the 16.6 they were averaging seven games into the season.
“If we share the ball and don’t turn it over, we’re tough to guard,” Eagles coach David Riley said. “That was a huge issue for us the first 12, 15 games, when we were throwing that thing around, but we’re getting better.”
Eastern, which leads the conference in assists per game, had 15 of them Thursday night, led by Bergersen’s four.
The teams traded baskets much of the first half before NAU used an 8-2 run to take a 33-26 lead on a three-point play from Keith Haymon with 3:29 until halftime.
Haymon scored 15 of his game-high 24 points in the first half, including a 4-of-6 effort from 3-point range. He finished 6 of 12 from beyond the arc. Teammate Jalen Cone added 20 points.
But after that three-point play, Eastern answered with a 15-0 run that spanned halftime. Though the Lumberjacks got within a possession a few times in the second half, they never retook the lead.
Eastern epitomized an inside-out game, scoring 30 points in the paint, 36 from 3-point range and then a season-low three more at the free-throw line, with no made midrange jumpers all night. The Eagles shot 45.8% from the field, the Lumberjacks 37.9%.
With one game to go, Eastern is tied with Portland State (12-15, 10-9) for the No. 6 seed in next week’s Big Sky Tournament in Boise. The Eagles and Vikings play at 2 p.m. Saturday at Reese Court. Eastern will be either the sixth or seventh seed and will play Wednesday regardless.
Montana State has wrapped up the No. 1 seed, and Montana will be the No. 5. But other than those, none of the other nine seeds are settled .
“We just want to be playing our best basketball right now,” Riley said. “It’s super important to build on this, play a great game on Saturday and come with some momentum in the tournament, because we’ve shown we can play with anyone in the conference.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.