Outside of the two programs, there was something a bit under-the-radar about the last time Eastern Washington and Washington State’s men’s basketball teams met on a court.
The game was played in Pullman last year, two days after Thanksgiving, one day after the Apple Cup and just hours after the Eastern Washington football team had won an opening-round FCS playoff game at home. Even at halftime of the basketball game, WSU led EWU by 12, and it seemed the result was destined to be the same as the previous four matchups: a Cougars victory.
But it wasn’t . The Eagles came back to win 76-71 in front of an announced crowd of 2,720 people – and the rematch on Monday promises to draw more attention, when the 1-3 Eagles play the 1-2 Cougars at 6 p.m. at the Spokane Arena.
“Really the only thing we’re talking about is the way we stayed in that game was through rebounding, and we’ve done the same thing,” said David Riley, now in his second year as EWU head coach.
Eastern Washington’s roster has more new faces than returners from last year’s victory over WSU. The Eagles’ leading scorer in that game – role player Mason Landdeck, who had 24 points – is no longer on their roster, and two starters have graduated and moved on as well.
Washington State’s top four scorers from last year’s team are gone, including the duo of Tyrell Robets and Michael Flowers, who combined to score 44 points against Eastenr last year.
In any case, both teams are looking to get their second win this season as they inch closer to conference play, which for Washington State begins on Dec. 1 at Oregon.
So far this year Eastern’s best scorer has been senior Angelo Allegri, who is averaging 12.3 points per game while shooting 40% overall and 31.8% from 3-point range. Sophomore Steele Venters, a preseason All-Big Sky selection, has mostly been held in check so far this year, averaging 8.0 points per game.
“Part of it is just finding ways to get his shots and where they’re going to come from with this team,” Riley said of Venters’ play so far. “Guys are in different roles, and as a team, we’re trying to figure out how to play inside-out (basketball).”
In its first two games, Eastern was outrebounded by an average of 11 per game, but in its last two – including a victory over Mississippi Valley State – the team has flipped that and won the rebounding battle by 12.5 per contest.
Washington State is plus-19 in rebounding overall through three games.
Riley pointed out it’s a small sample size so far this year and that the Eagles are still figuring out their identity.
One thing that will be new Monday: Though Riley has spent his college playing and coaching career at Whitworth and Eastern, he said this will be his first game at the Arena.
The Eagles will head to Florida later this week for games Friday and Sunday in the Florida International Tournament. Washington State will play next on Friday as well, in Pullman against Detroit Mercy.
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