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Sports >  EWU basketball

Eastern Washington turns attention toward Big Sky tournament ahead of tune-up vs. Montana State

Feb. 26, 2023 Updated Sun., Feb. 26, 2023 at 6:51 p.m.

Eastern Washington’s Steele Venters drives during a game against Northern Colorado on Feb. 18 in Cheney.  (Jonathan Match/Idaho State Athletics)
Eastern Washington’s Steele Venters drives during a game against Northern Colorado on Feb. 18 in Cheney. (Jonathan Match/Idaho State Athletics)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

With their record winning streak over, the Eastern Washington men’s basketball team is setting its focus on closing out the regular season against a team it may well meet again nine days later.

The Eagles’ opponent on Monday night is the Montana State Bobcats (21-9, 14-3), second to them in the Big Sky Conference standings. Tip off is set for 6 p.m. at Reese Court in Cheney.

Both teams are locked into their seeds, detracting some from the game’s intrigue. But the Eagles (22-8, 16-1) would like to refresh some of the momentum they lost in their 71-63 defeat at Idaho State on Saturday, which ended their 18-game winning streak.

“There are a lot of things we can improve on from (Saturday) that Montana State is going to try to expose,” EWU coach David Riley said on Sunday. “We’ve got to sharpen up before the tournament in Boise.”

Against Idaho State, Eastern played without starting guard Tyreese Davis, the redshirt junior transfer from Jacksonville. In 27 games this season, Davis is second on the team with 101 assists and third in scoring at 10.1 points per game.

Davis was dealing with a lower body issue, Riley said, and his absence was precautionary. Without him, the Eagles committed 19 turnovers and had their second-lowest shooting percentage (40%) of the conference season.

Riley did not say whether Davis would be available Monday.

“He’s a calming, steadying influence on our team,” Riley said, “and we looked a little bit rushed out there, especially against the traps and pressure that Idaho State put on us.”

Montana State, which won the Big Sky Tournament last year, has won four games in a row, including a victory at Idaho State and then three straight home victories, over Montana, Sacramento State and Portland State.

Bobcats leading scorer RaeQuan Battle has reached double digits in all but one conference game. The junior from Tulalip, Washington, averages 17.1 points per game and has made 47.4% of his shots, seventh-best percentage in the Big Sky.

Senior Jubrile Belo, last year’s league MVP, averages 12.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. In Montana State’s 91-78 win over Portland State on Saturday, Belo had 21 points and 11 rebounds in 23 minutes.

Defensively, the Bobcats’ opponent shooting percentage (42.7%) is second only to the Eagles’ (41.7%) in the conference.

Eastern beat Montana State 70-67 on Dec. 31 in Bozeman. Redshirt sophomore Steele Venters hit a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 19 seconds left that keyed the Eagles’ win.

Next weekend, the Eagles and Bobcats will begin the Big Sky Tournament in Boise on opposite sides of the bracket. On Sunday, Eastern will face the winner of Saturday’s game between the ninth- and 10th-seeded teams; Idaho, Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona could still finish in those bottom two positions in the standings.

Montana State will play the winner of the matchup between the seventh and eighth seeds.

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