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Sports >  EWU basketball

‘We cherish these moments’: Eastern Washington continues NIT run at No. 1 seed Oklahoma State

March 18, 2023 Updated Sat., March 18, 2023 at 6:24 p.m.

Eastern Washington players and fans celebrate during the first half of an NIT game Tuesday against Washington State at Beasley Coliseum.  (Geoff Crimmins/For The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington players and fans celebrate during the first half of an NIT game Tuesday against Washington State at Beasley Coliseum. (Geoff Crimmins/For The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

The last Big Sky Conference men’s team still playing basketball this season, Eastern Washington will try for another first on Sunday: beating a team from the Big 12.

The Eagles’ shot comes at 11 a.m. in a National Invitation Tournament second-round matchup at Oklahoma State, the top seed in their quadrant of the 32-team bracket.

“Any time you’re playing postseason basketball, we cherish these moments,” Eagles redshirt sophomore Steele Venters said. “A lot of teams aren’t playing basketball right now … they’re just sitting at home.”

Eastern is 0-12 against the Big 12, including a 77-70 loss to Texas Tech earlier this season and an NCAA Tournament loss to Oklahoma State in 2004, the only matchup between the Eagles and Cowboys. Oklahoma State reached the Final Four that year.

But following their first win in the NIT – 81-74 over regional rival Washington State in the first round – the Eagles are riding momentum into Stillwater, Oklahoma.

“(Beating WSU) shows we’re a (darn) good team,” EWU coach David Riley said.

With a 23-10 overall record, this year’s Eagles are the fifth in program history to win at least 20 games. The program record is 26, achieved during a 26-9 season in 2014-15. That year’s team won the Big Sky Tournament and lost its NCAA opener 84-74 to fourth-seeded Georgetown.

Matching that year’s win total would require an unprecedented run in the NIT for a program that has won two postseason games, including a victory in the 2016 College Basketball Invitational over Pepperdine.

This season, Eastern is 2-2 against Power Five programs, with wins over WSU and California and losses to WSU (in November) and that December loss to Texas Tech. Eastern is 7-82 against Power Five teams as a Division I program, its lone win outside the Pac-12 coming during that 2014-15 season when edging Indiana 88-86. The Hoosiers went 20-14 that year and reached the NCAA Tournament.

Montana State, this year’s Big Sky Tournament champion, earned a No. 14 seed in the NCAA Tournament and lost its opener 77-65 Friday to No. 3 Kansas State. Aside from Eastern, no other Big Sky teams played in any of the other postseason tournaments.

The Eagles-Cowboys winner will play either No. 2 North Texas or No. 3 Sam Houston in the NIT quarterfinals. Those teams are also scheduled to tip off at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Picked fifth in the preseason media and coaches’ polls, Eastern won the Big Sky regular-season title with a 16-2 record. The Eagles matched the conference’s record with an 18-game winning streak and were the first team to open Big Sky play 16-0.

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