A whistle blew as Eastern Washington guard Jacob Davison made his way toward the rim, giving the junior a moment to think about what he could do to make the Reese Court crowd giddier.
One of the biggest nonconference home games in program history was essentially decided, so Davison elected to take off and hammer down a 360-degree dunk.
It didn’t count, but the Eagles’ 87-82 win over midmajor power Belmont on Tuesday did.
“I wanted to give them a show,” Davison said before cracking a smile.
The Big Sky Conference preseason favorite did – and in a variety of ways.
The Eagles (4-2) flexed their experience, depth and freshman fortitude in their final game of the five-team Gotham Classic, taking down a Belmont (4-3) program that’s advanced to the NCAA Tournament almost annually since 2006 and reached the second round in March.
EWU hit its final 10 free throws down the stretch to hold off the Ohio Valley Conference kingpin, securing the best non-Big Sky home win of the three-year Shantay Legans era.
Sophomore forward Kim Aiken Jr.’s bucket inside gave the Eagles a late 77-75 lead they didn’t relinquish. Aiken added six more free throws to hold off Belmont in the seesaw game.
“(Belmont) has a great coaching staff and great players, and our guys took it upon themselves to have a great game,” Legans said. “They got down (7-0) early, stuck to the game plan and did a great job.”
Aiken’s latest double-double included 11 points and 11 rebounds and a big first-half block against a Bruins team that employed two 6-foot-11 forwards.
One of them, Nick Muszynski, poured in a game-high 30 points and tallied four blocked shots.
But the Eagles shut down Belmont’s leading scorer, crafty guard Luke Kunkel, holding him to 5-of-13 shooting and 10 points, nearly half his average.
EWU freshman guards Ellis Magnuson and Casson Rouse were tasked with guarding Kunkel.
“We know our offense is going to come, so tonight was all about defense,” Rouse said. “Stopping their guys and making it tough for them.”
In a game that featured 11 ties, nine lead changes and a combined 51 3-point attempts, EWU was boosted by Shadle Park graduates Tanner and Jacob Groves. The brothers collectively scored 13 straight points for EWU in the second half.
When Belmont’s Grayson Murphy hit a 3-pointer to give the Bruins a 51-44 lead, Rouse and Magnuson helped the Eagles storm back.
Rouse hit a 3-pointer and a short jumper and Magnuson converted on a three-point play to spark a 9-3 run to prevent dangerous Belmont from pulling away.
EWU senior forward Mason Peatling scored 12 of his team-high 17 points in the first half and Magnuson had 11 points and nine assists.
“It’s been fun,” Magnuson said. “Definitely a learning experience.”
The Eagles’ bench outscored Belmont’s 25-8.
The Eagles visit No. 23 Washington on Dec. 4.
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