For long stretches of Eastern Washington’s 74-64 loss to South Dakota State on Tuesday, it kept pace with one of the country’s premier midmajor programs.
Go-ahead buckets came tantalizingly close for the Eagles but never materialized.
Ten times EWU cut South Dakota State’s lead to one in front of a meager Christmas break crowd at Reese Court.
Ten times All-American forward Mike Daum’s senior-laden Jackrabbits answered.
Tyler Kidd’s 3-pointer midway though the second half cut SDSU’s lead to 51-50, but the 6-foot-9, 240-pound Daum responded with a 3-pointer, teammate Ryan Krueger hit another and the Jackrabbits had a multiple-possession lead the rest of the way.
“They made plays,” EWU head coach Shantay Legans said. “There were some opportunities for us. They showed their veteran savvy, you could say. They’ve been in that situation before.”
The Eagles (1-9) were paced by guards Jacob Davison (20 points) and Jack Perry (14 points), who both hit four 3-pointers in their penultimate nonconference game.
EWU shot 13 for 38 from 3-point range.
Jesse Hunt, a 6-7 swingman tasked with guarding Daum, had 12 rebounds, eight assists and eight points.
“I’ve been watching him play since I was a freshman,” Hunt said of Daum. “He’s a helluva player. It was a great matchup. He just outworked me today.”
The Eagles didn’t have the services of 6-8 forward Mason Peatling, an All-Big Sky honoree last season, because of an injury. He is expected to make his season debut Friday at home against NAIA member Corban University.
EWU came out cold, missing its first four shots and falling into a 9-0 hole, but back-to-back buckets by Luka Vulikic and Cody Benzel helped the Eagles establish an early rhythm.
“We’re getting better – we’re moving the ball and had 15 assists, which is pretty good,” Legans said. “The 15 turnovers wasn’t great, and then we had some defensive assignment letdowns which really hurt our team.”
EWU’s nonconference schedule included Syracuse, Oregon, Washington, Stanford, upstart San Francisco and South Dakota State, a program that’s reached the five of the last seven NCAA Tournament and is favored to win the Summit League again.
SDSU shot 21 for 25 from the line with Daum hitting all eight of his attempts.
Daum, whose team fell 72-69 at sixth-ranked Nevada on Saturday, lauded EWU.
“Eastern Washington is a good team,” Daum said. “Their home court is unique for us, it’s what we see when we go to Western Illinois, but I am proud of our guys for staying resilient through the swings of the game.
“Whenever (EWU) would go on a run, our guys would answer on the defensive end.”
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review’s sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.