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Kim Aiken Jr. lifts Eastern Washington past Portland St. 68-66

UPDATED: Sat., March 2, 2019

Eastern Washington’s Kim Aiken Jr. looks to pass against Portland State on Saturday  in Cheney.
Eastern Washington’s Kim Aiken Jr. looks to pass against Portland State on Saturday in Cheney.

Kim Aiken Jr. nearly softened with emotion.

After Eastern Washington’s freshman forward buried the winning 3-pointer Saturday in a 68-66 win over Portland State, Reese Court’s once-listless crowd belted out a roar.

Aiken, whose shot from the corner dropped through as the final buzzer sounded, was immediately mobbed by his teammates.

The wasn’t a moment the rising 19-year-old expected on Senior Day.

“It was unbelievable. I’ve never had that happen,” said Aiken, who had a team-high 19 points and nine rebounds. “I kind of wanted to cry (while being mobbed). It was a real joy, and the pass by Jack (Perry) unbelievable.”

EWU (12-17, 10-8 Big Sky) snapped Portland State’s five-game winning streak, keeping its hopes of a first-round bye in the Big Sky Conference Tournament alive.

The Vikings (14-15, 9-9), who beat EWU 78-65 in Portland in January, were seconds away from a season sweep.

After EWU guard Tyler Kidd’s driving bucket gave the Eagles a late 65-63 lead, Portland State guard Deante Strickland hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 10 seconds left.

EWU coach Shantay Legans had no intention of using a timeout.

Instead, Perry, EWU’s sophomore point guard, took the inbounds pass, dribbled down the floor and drove toward the bucket before kicking it to an open Aiken in the opposite corner.

“You have to let players make plays,” Legans said. “It was a high ball screen and Jack made an incredible play to get the ball to Kim. It’s something we work on a lot just playing.

“He came in and made the great play – he had a layup that would have been contested, but he found Kim for the open 3. It was a great scene to see a sophomore hit a freshman for the game-winner to send our seniors out as winners on Senior Day.”

Portland State had a 22-8 cushion to start the game and led for 30 minutes.

Stickland’s layup midway through the second half gave the Vikings a 57-47 lead, but 3-pointers by Aiken and Ty Gibson sparked EWU’s subsequent 14-3 run.

For the second straight home game, EWU shot less than 40 percent (38.3), including 6 for 26 from 3-point range.

EWU senior guard Cody Benzel, a Ferris graduate, liked his team’s resolve despite its rash of injuries and below-average shooting.

“We’re trying to fight through this and have the next-man-up (attitude),” Benzel said. “Guys have stepped up, and I think we’re pretty set going forward.”

Jesse Hunt, one of EWU’s four seniors, recorded his 11th double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds and four assists).

Junior forward Mason Peatling had 14 points and six rebounds for EWU, which posted a 10-4 record in Cheney this season.

Stickland led the Vikings with 20 points, and Sai Nuhu had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

The Eagles, who are among a group of five teams battling for third place, close out their regular season next week at Idaho State and Weber State.

The top five teams earn byes in the Big Sky Conference Tournament in Boise, which begins March 13.

“We can win or lose to anybody. We beat the best team in the league (Montana) and we lost to the worst team (Idaho) in the league,” Legans said. “We have to make sure we’re playing good basketball and we are playing with confidence in our next two games. No matter where we are seeded, any team in this league can win the Big Sky Tournament.”

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