Big Sky Champs: Eastern Washington adds hardware to historic streak, beats Northern Colorado for share of regular-season title
Feb. 18, 2023 Updated Sat., Feb. 18, 2023 at 10:16 p.m.
Eastern Washington celebrates winning the Big Sky regular-season championship after beating Northern Colorado on Saturday in Cheney. (Courtesy EWU Athletics)
CHENEY – Jogging downcourt in transition, Steele Venters extended his right arm and called for the ball. Everyone at Reese Court knew what was coming.
The Eastern Washington guard caught a pass at the wing, made a slight hesitation move to shake off his defender, took one dribble and stepped casually to his left, then launched a 3-pointer. Everyone in attendance seemed certain the shot would find the net.
At that point, Venters and EWU were in the middle of a red-hot shooting stretch. For the better part of the first half, the Eagles oozed confidence and made everything look easy.
“As a coach, you’re always worried when you know that there’s something big on the line,” Eagles coach David Riley said. “How are the guys going to respond to it? When I walked into shootaround and saw their focus, it was like, ‘OK, these guys are dialed in.’ ”
There was no chance they’d give up their nation-leading winning streak or miss an opportunity to claim a trophy Saturday in front of their home crowd.
Venters swished the 3 – his third consecutive 3-pointer in just more than 1 minute – to put EWU ahead by 12 points after 8 minutes against Big Sky foe Northern Colorado.
The Eagles controlled a double-digit lead the rest of the way and breezed past the Bears 89-77. EWU (21-7, 15-0 Big Sky) clinched at least a share of the Big Sky regular-season title and extended its winning streak to 17 games.
“It’s surreal. It’s a goal we’ve had, and to accomplish it – man, I can’t really explain the feeling,” said forward Angelo Allegri, the Eagles’ lone senior.
Confetti rained down after the final horn as school officials presented the conference championship trophy to a team that had been picked by both coaches and the media to finish fifth in the Big Sky. EWU players hopped on top of the scorer’s table, raising the hardware in front of their fans before the net-cutting ceremony.
“I’m cherishing the moment. We’re winning, and that’s genuinely all I care about,” Allegri said. “I know, in the preseason, people didn’t think we could be here. But we all did. To be here and prove to everyone that we’re this good and we can keep doing things in March, it’s huge.”
The Eagles hit six of their first seven attempts from 3-point range in a lopsided first half featuring plenty of EWU highlights. After Venters’ 3-point barrage, guard Deon Stroud followed with an alley-oop dunk. Casey Jones followed with a putback jam, and Allegri hit back-to-back 3s later in the half to help EWU build a 51-33 lead at halftime.
The Bears (10-18, 5-11) made a couple of surges in the second half but never seriously threatened. The Eagles always had an answer. When the lead got down to 13 points early in the second half, Venters responded with a 3. When EWU’s cushion slipped to 12 points with about 7 minutes remaining, the Eagles raced back ahead on an 11-3 run.
Allegri paced EWU with a double-double of 22 points (7-of-12 shooting from the floor) and 11 rebounds. Forward Ethan Price poured in 19 points, and Venters contributed 11 of his 14 points in the first half. Jones chipped in 11 points as the Eagles shot 51.6% from the field and 9 of 29 (31%) on 3-pointers.
Guard Dalton Knecht scored 22 points to lead Northern Colorado, which shot 41.9% from the field and 7 of 23 (30.4%) on 3s.
EWU outrebounded the Bears 44-27.
The Eagles visit Weber State for a 6 p.m. tipoff Thursday in Ogden, Utah.
Eastern Washington Athletics / Youtube
Eastern Washington Athletics / Youtube
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